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Politics & Government

John Bolton Bombshell Reverberates Through Impeachment Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A potential bombshell in the impeachment trial of President Trump is rattling senators who will soon decide whether to hear more witness testimony. It comes from The New York Times' reporting on national security adviser John Bolton's upcoming memoir. He apparently writes that President Trump told Bolton in August that he wanted to keep the hold on Ukrainian military aid until officials there agreed to investigate Democrats, including the Biden family. NPR has not seen a draft of the manuscript, and the president denies the allegation. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us for some reaction from Capitol Hill.

Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The White House is putting forward the second day of their defense team's arguments in the impeachment trial. Have they addressed the Bolton allegations?

DAVIS: Well, Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow is a member of the White House defense team. And he did seem to allude to that today in his opening remarks.

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JAY SEKULOW: We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all.

DAVIS: This echoes what White House surrogates have been saying all morning - House Republicans, Senate Republicans - essentially saying that senators must decide on the merits of the evidence that the House sent over and the arguments that the House impeachment managers made, not on anything else that's happening outside of that.

SHAPIRO: So there would need to be at least four Republicans ready to break with the White House and party leadership to hear from more witnesses. Does the Bolton news make that more likely?

DAVIS: Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney thinks so. He's been on record saying he's already a yes vote for Bolton testimony, and he spoke to reporters this morning.

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MITT ROMNEY: I think it's increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.

DAVIS: I think one effect is it certainly seems to have hardened support for Bolton testimony from senators who already said they were open to it. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both reiterated that position this morning. I think the chances of a fourth Republican vote certainly improve today. It's possible, but it still seems unlikely because we haven't seen any Republicans break ranks.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what the argument is for Republicans against hearing from Bolton if, as the White House defense argues, the president did absolutely nothing wrong here. Wouldn't Bolton help bolster that case?

DAVIS: Right. Yeah, I asked that question of Roy Blunt. He's a Republican from Missouri. He's a member of party leadership. And his point - they're not really focusing on what Bolton says but on the process. And his point is that there still aren't 67 votes required to convict the president.

ROY BLUNT: Calling witnesses could be a monthslong effort that's hard to imagine would change the final outcome.

DAVIS: He's essentially saying there that agreeing to witnesses could - means no end date for this trial. It could go on for weeks and weeks, and that is incredibly unappealing to Republicans. The White House opposes it. And they would see any vote for more witnesses or more evidence as a vote against the president.

SHAPIRO: Republicans, obviously, don't want to anger the president 'cause that would have political consequences for them. At the same time, do they risk angering voters on this question of witnesses when polls consistently show that voters support hearing more testimony?

DAVIS: They do. And we have recent poll data out just a couple of days ago - ABC/Washington Post poll that came out on Friday showed two-thirds of Americans say the Senate should call witnesses. That even includes many Republicans who stand behind the president. For that very point, they think it could be exculpatory. And there's a reason why here - that Democrats think Republicans are making a long-term mistake. This is Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner.

MARK WARNER: Well, if John Bolton was in the room, we should hear from him. I think any other effort will be seen by the American people as a complete and total evasion.

DAVIS: This question on whether to hear from more witnesses could come as early as this Friday, so we'll know pretty soon.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.