This week: Senate barrels toward showdown on impeachment witnesses

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The Senate is heading for a make or break vote on calling witnesses, marking a crucial point in President Trump’s impeachment trial. 

Whether or not 51 senators will agree to call witnesses is the only remaining wild card in the Senate’s proceeding, which is all but guaranteed to end in Trump’s acquittal. 

Adding a twist to the chamber’s debate, The New York Times reported on Sunday that former national security adviser John Bolton claims in an unpublished memoir that Trump sought to tie $391 million in aid to Ukraine to his requests for the country’s leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Bolton is one of four witnesses Democrats want to testify, and Democrats immediately jumped on the Times report to make their case for his testimony. 

“The [Times] report suggests multiple top Trump Admin officials knew the facts and deliberately misled Congress and the American people. A massive White House cover-up. All we need is four Republican Senators to get the truth,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted. 

The seven House impeachment managers, in a joint statement, called the Times piece an “explosive revelation.” 

“Senators should insist that Mr. Bolton be called as a witness, and provide his notes and other relevant documents. The Senate trial must seek the full truth and Mr. Bolton has vital information to provide,” the House managers said.

Bolton’s lawyer in a statement appeared to confirm the authenticity of the Times piece, and suggested that pieces of the book had been leaked by a “corrupted” process and “other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript.” 

In addition to Bolton, Democrats want acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Mulvaney’s adviser Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, an Office of Management and Budget aide to testify. 

“This report further underlines why my Republican colleagues should be working across the aisle to ensure we hear relevant testimony and receive documents from Ambassador Bolton, along with Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair, and Michael Duffey, who should testify before the Senate,” Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) said in a statement. 

Under the rules resolution passed last week, the Senate will have a vote on whether or not additional witnesses or documents will be allowed. Democrats need four Republicans to vote with them to successfully pave the way for witnesses. 

After that, both sides could make motions for specific witnesses and the Senate would vote on calling them. 

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has said he wants to hear from Bolton. He added on Saturday that he is “very likely” to support calling witnesses. 

Both Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have suggested they are open to witnesses, though neither has specifically said who they would support calling. Neither has weighed in on the Times report. 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is retiring but close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has indicated he will make a decision on whether or not witnesses are needed after opening arguments and questions from senators. 

“After I hear both sides, and after we have a chance to answer our questions, I think it shouldn’t be difficult to decide if we need additional documents or additional witnesses,” he said on Saturday. 

Republican allies immediately rallied to Trump’s defense, arguing that Bolton’s forthcoming book didn’t alter that Ukraine has said it did not feel pressured to investigate Democrats. 

“I keep reading in the media about how there must have been some sort of political quid pro quo scheme… And yet, apparently the one group who didn’t know about it were the people supposedly being extorted—the Ukrainians. The facts haven’t changed,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said in a tweet. 

But there are still several steps before the Senate turns its attention to the witness fight. 

Trump’s legal team will resume its defense on Monday at 1 p.m., after a brief two-hour opening on Saturday. 

They have 24 hours total to make their case, and have to wrap the case by Tuesday. Though White House counsel Pat Cipollone has said they don’t intend to use all of their time, they’ve also been cagey about if they will use both Monday and Tuesday. 

“I think we are going to be more efficient. I doubt that there’s any scenario where we approach 24 hours of presentation. But how that will be split over Monday and Tuesday is sort of hard to predict at this point,” a source on the president’s legal team said. 

Trump’s team argued on Saturday that Trump’s decision to hold the Ukraine aid was tied to concerns about corruption, and that the funds weren’t brought up during the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

After Trump’s team wraps up, senators then have up to 16 hours to ask questions of both sides. Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican senator, noted that he did not expect the question portion to start until Wednesday. 


The House is slated to take up two measures in response to Trump’s decision to launch an airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq without congressional approval. 

“Next week, the House will take additional action to reassert Congress’s constitutional authority on matters of war. This comes after the House passed a war powers resolution earlier this month to limit the President’s ability to take military action against Iran,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Friday. 

“The House will consider legislation from Rep. Barbara Lee to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq, which was intended to enable the removal of Saddam Hussein, but is still used today to justify the use of American military force in Iraq. We will also take up legislation from Rep. Ro Khanna to prohibit the use of federal funds for military action in or against Iran absent Congressional authorization.”

The House’s votes come as a war powers debate that would limit Trump’s ability action against Iran without congressional approval is stuck in limbo in the Senate. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a resolution earlier this month that would require Trump to end hostilities against Iran within 30 days. He announced that he has the 51 votes to pass the resolution, which is all but guaranteed to be vetoed by Trump. 

Democrats are able to force a vote on the Senate floor, but it was put on pause because of the impeachment trial. 

Tags Barbara Lee Chris Coons Christopher Coons Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Joe Biden John Barrasso John Bolton Lamar Alexander Lisa Murkowski Mark Meadows Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Ro Khanna Steny Hoyer Susan Collins Tim Kaine

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