Trump team doubles down despite Bolton bombshell

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE’s lawyers did not change their tactics Monday despite bombshell new revelations related to former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonChina sees chance to expand global influence amid pandemic Trump ignores science at our peril Bolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office MORE’s alleged knowledge about the Ukraine affair at the center of the president’s impeachment trial.

In hours of arguments on the Senate floor, Trump’s attorneys did not address or seek to knock down Bolton’s account as Trump himself has done.

Instead, they doubled down on their argument that House Democrats did not uncover evidence showing Trump tied military assistance or a White House meeting to Ukraine launching investigations.


The unflinching strategy from Trump's legal team comes as signs grow that Republican senators may vote to subpoena Bolton and other witnesses in the impeachment trial after opening arguments conclude.

Trump’s personal attorney Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowMeadows joins White House in crisis mode What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber Senate votes to acquit Trump on articles of impeachment MORE said at the outset of Monday’s proceedings that the team would not deal in “speculation,” making clear the new Bolton revelations would not figure into the team’s plans without explicitly acknowledging the elephant in the room. 

“We deal with transcript evidence. We deal with publicly available information. We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all,” Sekulow said. 

The defense team’s case has hinged on a few key arguments.

One is that Trump did not explicitly connect a hold on security aid for Ukraine to the country’s help with investigations into his political rivals. Lawyers for Trump have argued Democrats failed to produce more than secondhand and thirdhand witness accounts and that witnesses have only speculated about Trump’s desire for a “quid pro quo” related to the investigations. 

Bolton’s manuscript threatens to upend the effectiveness of that approach. The New York Times reported that Bolton wrote of an August meeting in which Trump said he would not lift a hold on nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine until the country assisted with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims The Memo: Scale of economic crisis sends shudders through nation The Hill's Campaign Report: Coronavirus forces Democrats to postpone convention MORE.


Trump in an overnight tweet denied telling Bolton that aid for Ukraine was tied to investigations, and the president’s team made no explicit mentions of Bolton on Monday. It instead harped on the evidence presented by House managers and claimed evidence Democrats did not focus on during their three-day presentation exonerates Trump. 

“The House managers’ own record, their record, that they developed and brought before this chamber, reflects that anyone who spoke with the president made clear that there was no linkage between security assistance and investigations,” deputy White House counsel Michael Purpura said.

The defense is expected to wrap its arguments on Tuesday as it seeks to assuage senators still on the fence. Senators will then have 16 hours to ask questions before moving to a vote on whether to subpoena witnesses.

The GOP-controlled Senate is nearly certain to acquit Trump. Prior to Sunday’s bombshell on Bolton’s book, it appeared likely Republicans would be able to vote down an effort to hear additional witness testimony and evidence.

Some members remained confident that would be the case, brushing aside the Bolton allegations as an effort to drum up publicity for his book and questioning why it should fall to the Senate to gather new evidence.

"The one thing I know for sure is John Bolton doesn't know a single thing today he didn't know before Christmas,” Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting MORE (R-Mo.) told reporters at the Capitol. “It's the House's job to put a case together."

But a trio of Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski pushes Mnuchin for oil company loans Overnight Energy: Trump says global oil production could be cut by 15M barrels | Trump to rent storage space to oil producers | EPA defends move to suspend pollution monitoring GOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC MORE (Alaska) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Granting cash payments is a conservative principle 7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package MORE (Utah) — have remained open to hearing from witnesses since the outset of the trial. Romney on Monday suggested some of his GOP colleagues were increasingly willing to hear new evidence in light of the allegations levied in the Bolton manuscript.

Without mentioning Bolton on Monday, Trump’s attorneys also argued against the Senate considering new evidence and witnesses, reiterating their position that the House process was one-sided and unfair and that it isn’t the Senate’s job to “redo” the investigation. 

Trump in a tweet early Monday argued it wasn’t up to the Senate to call Bolton now, claiming falsely that House Democrats “never even asked” Bolton to testify. 

The position of ignoring Bolton may become untenable, particularly with questions from senators looming.

"I think it's inevitable they're going to need to do that,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Lobbying world MORE (R-Wyo.) said when asked about addressing the Times’s report. “I wasn't sure the timing on that, but I think it's inevitable.”

The White House is said to be gearing up in the event of a drawn-out legal battle to block potential testimony from Bolton. Trump has previously indicated he will invoke executive privilege to try to stop his former top adviser from sharing certain details.


“The problem with John is that it's a national security problem,” Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. “John, he knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader, and it's not very positive, and then I have to deal on behalf of the country?” 

Trump went on to suggest that other considerations were also at play with respect to Bolton’s testimony.

“I don't know if we left on the best of terms,” the president said. “And so, you don't like people testifying when they didn't leave on good terms — and that was due to me, not due to him. And so, we'll see what happens.”

Trump’s lawyers have also argued that Democrats’ allegations do not meet the criteria for an impeachable offense because they do not allege a crime. 

That featured prominently in former independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s first remarks on the floor of the Senate on Monday. He called it a “weighty consideration” for senators as they decide how to vote at the end of the trial. Sekulow also claimed that House Democrats were trying to remove Trump from office over a foreign policy disagreement, not an impeachable offense. 

A number of legal experts, however, have contested the interpretation of the Constitution that a crime is needed to impeach a president. 

Jordain Carney and Olivia Beavers contributed.