Democrats say Trump ceded right to block Bolton when he attacked him

House Democrats say the White House has no power to block the testimony of John BoltonJohn BoltonDefense policy bill would create new cyber czar position Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday MORE, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE's former national security adviser, who rattled the impeachment debate this week by validating the central charge against the president.

"There's no real claim to executive privilege," a Democratic aide involved in the impeachment trial said Tuesday morning. "These are phony claims; they should be called out."

Bolton, in his upcoming book, maintains that Trump told him last August that he intended to withhold military aid to Ukraine until leaders in Kyiv opened investigations into Trump's political rivals — the very allegation that sparked the Democrats' impeachment inquiry a month later.

The bombshell revelation, first reported by The New York Times, has shaken Capitol Hill, while throwing Trump's Republican allies on the defensive and lending considerable new ammunition to Democrats demanding to hear from first-hand witnesses during the Senate impeachment trial.

Bolton has offered to testify under subpoena, but Trump last week strongly suggested he'd fight that move, arguing that Bolton's testimony would create "a national security problem." With that in mind, the White House is reportedly weighing plans to invoke executive privilege to block Bolton's appearance if the Senate votes to call him in.

Democrats are already fighting to preempt that strategy, arguing that, legally, Trump sabotaged any effort to deny Bolton a voice when he attacked his former national security adviser on Twitter early Monday morning.

In that tweet, Trump accusing Bolton of lying about their August conversation "only to sell a book."

Democrats now maintain that, in airing those attacks publicly, Trump has waived any power he might have had to block Bolton's testimony.

"There's a saying that you can't use privileges as both a sword and a shield," the aide told reporters Tuesday on a phone call.. "In other words, when you talk about those issues, it's fair game."

"It's a false argument, and to the extent that anyone's trying to raise it, you have the the chief justice of the United States sitting right there to reject it," the aide said.

A second Democratic aide delivered the same message even more tersely a day earlier.

"He's attacked Bolton; [Bolton] has the right to defend himself," the aide said.

It remains unclear if the fight will get that far. While Bolton's account has made it more difficult for Republicans to justify their opposition to new witnesses, only two GOP senators — Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him WaPo reporter says GOP has less incentive to go big on COVID-19 relief COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks MORE (Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him GOP blocks effort to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks MORE (Maine) — have suggested they'll support efforts to hear new evidence when the Senate votes on that question, likely on Friday.

The large majority of Republican senators are rallying behind Trump, airing a range of arguments in defense of their opposition to new testimony. Chief among them, Republicans say it's the job of the House, not the Senate, to conduct the investigation.

"As a senator, we have a responsibility, when you look to the Constitution, to not allow this to become a circus — which is what the Democrats are trying to do — but to judge the case that is brought to us," said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (Wyo.), the third-ranking Senate Republican.

Other Trump allies are questioning the veracity of the news reports outlining Bolton's unpublished book, echoing Trump's own frequent dismissal of critical media stories as "fake news."

Trump's defense rests largely on the argument that he withheld the military aid to check Ukrainian corruption in general, not to target his political opponents specifically. Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCheney, top GOP lawmakers ask Trump campaign for proof of election fraud New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future Sunday shows preview: Biden team gears up for transition, Trump legal battles continue and pandemic rages on MORE (R-Ohio) said those "facts" underlying the episode "will never change regardless of what The New York Times may report about some anonymous source telling them what the draft manuscript of what Mr. Bolton's book supposedly says."

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Lawmakers release compromise defense bill without Section 230 repeal Compromise defense bill offers rebuke of Trump's Germany drawdown MORE (R-Okla.) offered yet another argument for ignoring Bolton's new account, suggesting Trump's former national security adviser is simply seeking some measure of revenge after clashing with the president on foreign policy and being pushed out of the administration last September.

"You've got to keep in mind, for the first time in his life he was fired," Inhofe said. "That does have an effect on people."

Although Bolton left under disputed circumstances — Trump said he was fired, Bolton said he resigned — Inhofe's comments are indicative of the thinking of Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have taken Trump's word that he never conditioned the Ukrainian aid on political favors.

Indeed, Trump's legal team all but ignored Bolton's assertions on Monday, the second day of their defense arguments in the Senate trial, maintaining that Trump was merely protecting taxpayer dollars from being wasted in a country long known for corruption. Even if Bolton's account were accurate, they said, it doesn't merit impeachment.

“Let me repeat: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense," Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzSunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report: War over the Supreme Court Dershowitz suing CNN for 0 million in defamation suit MORE, a celebrity lawyer on Trump's defense team, said on the Senate floor. "That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution."

That argument is widely disputed by other legal scholars — a dynamic Dershowitz acknowledged Monday night — and Democrats on Tuesday dismissed it as "nonsense."

"Seriously? Strong-arming a foreign leader to attack an opponent and interfere in our election? There is no way that can be right," said the second Democratic aide. "No wonder, as he admitted, no legitimate scholar agrees with him."

Trump's defense has also leaned heavily on the argument that the Democrats' case rests on testimony from second-hand figures who were out of the loop and unaware of the president's intentions. Bolton is the rare figure who can both provide a first-hand account and has offered to do so.

As the opening arguments of the impeachment trial are set to end Tuesday, Democrats are vowing to use the next phase — which allows senators to ask specific questions of both sides — to hammer away at the White House arguments, leaning heavily on Bolton's account.

"You can expect that we will focus like a laser on the importance of this additional proof," said the second Democratic aide. "In and of itself it's enough to secure a conviction. But it [also] ties together all of the other proof."