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Senate Republicans face pivotal moment on impeachment witnesses

Republicans in the Senate are facing new pressure to subpoena key witnesses on the impeachment trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE

The Senate was headed into the second week of the trial facing a pivotal vote on the subject, and it looked like Democrats would almost certainly not win the four GOP votes needed to subpoena new witnesses.

But that was before a report Sunday night in The New York Times.

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The report, based on an unpublished manuscript by Trump's former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Bolton calls on GOP leadership to label Trump's behavior 'inexcusable' MORE, said Bolton in his forthcoming book claims the president tied $391 million in aid to Ukraine to his requests for that country to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE and his son Hunter.

Democrats immediately pounced on the news, with the Democratic impeachment managers saying there was no excuse for GOP senators not to vote for witnesses.

Bolton is one of the witnesses most important to hear from, Democrats were saying even before the new report.

"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 in a statement.

The White House was aware of the claims in Bolton's book, thought it is not clear for how long.

“Ambassador Bolton’s manuscript was submitted to the NSC for pre-publication review and has been under initial review by the NSC. No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript,” National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement. 

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Senate Republican leaders before the Bolton revelations had voiced confidence that they will keep their conference unified enough to defeat a motion to subpoena new evidence, which could allow the trial to wrap up at the end of the week.

The GOP is almost certain to lose the vote of Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTeam Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump MORE (R-Maine), and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump MORE (R-Utah) on Saturday said that “it’s very likely” he’ll vote for additional witnesses.

The third and fourth GOP votes required by Democrats to win a majority have been seen as trickier gets.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski calls on Trump to begin transition process, decries 'pressure campaign on state legislators' Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Alaska) said Saturday she is reviewing her notes and dismissed speculation that she is leaning against new witnesses.

“There are a lot of people trying to divine tea leaves,” Murkowski quipped about the intense scrutiny over her statements. 

Murkowski insisted she is keeping an open mind on voting for subpoenas for Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney 'concerned' by Giuliani role in Trump election case On The Money: Senate releases spending bills, setting up talks for December deal | McConnell pushing for 'highly targeted' COVID deal | CFPB vet who battled Trump will lead Biden plans to overhaul agency Consumer bureau vet who battled Trump will lead Biden plans to overhaul agency MORE

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMedia and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Top cybersecurity official ousted by Trump Devin Nunes fends off Democratic opponent in California MORE (D-Calif.), the lead manager of the House impeachment team, irritated Collins and other GOP senators when he said in his closing statement on Friday night that they feared crossing Trump. 

Murkowski, however, said Schiff’s remarks wouldn’t factor in her decision making.

“I’ve taken a lot of notes — it takes me back to law school. What I haven’t done is I haven’t gone through any of those, but along the way I made little asterisks and notations about what I want to see, what questions I still have. So I have lot of work to do on my own,” she said.  

Democrats had been growing more pessimistic about winning the witness vote, but the report in the Times gave new momentum to their calls.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the Times report gave Republican senators a choice between "our Constitution or a cover-up." 
 
"Amb. Bolton reportedly heard directly from Trump that aid for Ukraine was tied to political investigations. The refusal of the Senate to call for him, other relevant witnesses, and documents is now even more indefensible," Pelosi tweeted. 

A vote could take place soon.

Trump’s defense team, which used only a couple hours of its allotted floor time on Saturday, will renew its arguments at 1 p.m. Monday but is not expected to use its full 24 hours.

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Senate Democrats say they plan to use the full 16 hours to ask questions after opening arguments, which sets up a debate Wednesday or Thursday on whether it should be in order to call for additional evidence.

If that motion fails, the trial could be wrapped up by the end of the week.

GOP leaders have warned their colleagues that Trump will invoke executive privilege over his conversations with Bolton and Mulvaney and that a court fight to settle it might drag the trial out for weeks.

Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHillicon Valley: Four major tech issues facing the Biden administration | Pressure grows to reinstate White House cyber czar | Facebook, Google to extend political ad bans House report says lawmakers could securely cast remote votes amid pandemic Why prevailing wage reform matters for H-1B visas MORE (D-Calif.), one of the impeachment managers, admitted Sunday, before the Times report, that she has no idea what to expect from potential GOP swing votes such as Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDemocrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump Trump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (R-Tenn.) or Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerHillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Democrats vent to Schumer over Senate majority failure MORE (R-Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol McSally's final floor speech: 'I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field' MORE (R-Ariz.), who both face reelection this year and potential primary challenges.

“As I speak and I sit there, I find myself looking at the senators — a lot of them I served with when they were in the House — and wondering what’s going through their minds,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday

Democrats say that vulnerable GOP incumbents will pay a political price in November’s general election if they vote against witnesses, pointing to recent polls showing strong public support for calling additional evidence, even among Republicans.

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But GOP incumbents also have to weigh the backlash from the GOP base if they vote to extend the trial of a president who has maintained strong approval ratings among Republican voters.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued Saturday that voting to remove Trump from office would be a far greater subversion of democracy than anything Democrats have charged Trump with.

“They’re asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months,” he said. “They’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history.”

Jordain Carney contributed.