Bolton sparks internal GOP fight over witnesses

Former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDiplomacy with China is good for America The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep DOJ launches probe into Bolton book for possible classified information disclosures MORE’s claim in an unpublished manuscript that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE told him he wanted to hold military assistance to Ukraine to get officials there to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJoe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally Special counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report MORE has sharpened a rift within the Senate GOP over trial strategy.

Two key moderates, Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (R-Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate MORE (R-Maine), say Bolton’s claim strengthens their calls for the Senate to hear from witnesses at President Trump’s impeachment trial.

Yet GOP leaders and other rank-and-file Republican senators are questioning Bolton’s motivations and dismissing the reported claims of his book draft as adding little to the case against the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Ky.), at a Republican conference lunch meeting Monday, urged his colleagues to hold off on making a quick judgment on the need for witnesses in the wake of news reports on Bolton’s claims.

Romney told reporters Monday morning “it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.”

Collins, another key moderate, said “reports about John Bolton’s book strengthens the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”

But those two GOP senators had already indicated they would vote for a motion this week to begin debate on subpoenaing additional witnesses and documents.

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McConnell on Monday cautioned his other fellow Republicans to hold off.

He and other GOP leaders warn that issuing subpoenas for Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney to start hedge fund Fauci says positive White House task force reports don't always match what he hears on the ground Bottom line MORE and other witnesses being demanded by Democrats, could extend the trial indefinitely.

The GOP leader reminded colleagues at a closed-door meeting in the Mansfield Room that they don’t need to decide the need for witnesses now because they have already voted for an organizing resolution for the trial that sets up a debate on that question after both sides have presented their opening arguments and senators have had 16 hours to ask questions.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day On Paycheck Protection Program, streamlined forgiveness is key McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package MORE (R-N.D.), who attended the lunch, said McConnell gave senators “the wisest counsel” by telling them “remember we passed a rules package that gives us an opportunity to vote on this very issue of witnesses after we hear both sides and ask our questions.

“It seemed wise at the time and it seems even wiser now,” Cramer said.

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In other words, keep your powder dry.

“He just reiterated that a couple times as did some other people just to remind us that we have dealt with this and we don’t have to deal with the next step of it until the end of phase one,” Cramer added.

Democrats need four Republican defections to win a vote on witnesses, and two possible swing votes, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), were keeping a low profile Monday morning.

Murkowski and Alexander said they were going to stick with their timelines, which is to wait until phase one of the trial is over before deciding on the need for new subpoenas.

Murkowski said in a tweet Monday afternoon “there is an appropriate time for us to evaluate whether we need additional information,” adding “that time is almost here” while Alexander highlighted his effort to ensure a vote on witnesses by week’s end.

"I worked with my colleagues to make sure we have a chance after we've heard the arguments, after we've asked our questions to decide if we need additional evidence and I'll decide that at that time," he said.

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Republican leaders spent much of Monday downplaying Bolton’s claim in hopes of keeping the call for witnesses within their conference to two Republican senators.

“To me the facts of the case remain the same. There is nothing new here to what the House managers have been saying,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMurkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates MORE (Wyo.) told reporters Monday.

Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies MORE (S.D.) echoed that point, arguing he doesn't "think it changes the facts,” and Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThis week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Murkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election MORE (R-Mo.) said Bolton’s claim doesn’t change the House manager’s case fundamentally.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate Texas Democrats roll out first wave of planned digital ads as Election Day nears Calls grow for Biden to expand election map in final sprint MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to the GOP leadership, said he was suspicious of the motives behind the leak given that Bolton is trying to sell a book.

“It seems awfully manipulated, the whole sequence,” he said.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunPessimism grows as hopes fade for coronavirus deal McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package Patient Protection Pledge offers price transparency MORE (R-Ind.) said Bolton’s manuscript “added some fuel to the fire” but doesn’t change Republicans’ view that the impeachment effort is fundamentally driven by political motives and would interfere with the voters' choice in 2016 and ability to choose in the next election.

“I think what it’s done is take an already hot topic and added some fuel to the fire,” he said.

“For me, from a place like Indiana, it still goes back to the origination of how this occurred: Wanting to malign the president from before he was even inaugurated,” Braun said.

Cramer warned that voting for a motion to consider additional witnesses and information could turn the trial into a fishing expedition.

“I just hate to start going down that path,” he said. “My concern is if the Senate becomes the House managers favorite fishing pond, when do you stop pulling fish out?”

“Given how weak the argument is, I don’t see why we should let that happen. If it does happen then I’m afraid ... it could become a very open-ended situation,” he added.

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsChamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection Senate GOP eyes early exit Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden MORE (R-S.D.), emerging from the GOP lunch, said Bolton’s reported claim doesn’t appear to have shifted the landscape much within his conference.

Rounds said GOP colleagues don’t think Bolton would “change the focus” of the House managers’ argument but acknowledged “the question is whether or not he would be a material witness to anything that was necessary.”