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Republicans debate calling Bolton as Trump impeachment trial witness

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Via Financial Times

Donald Trump’s lawyers are expected to wrap up their opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday, as senators debate whether to call witnesses following new claims from John Bolton that have caught the US president’s Republican supporters off guard.

Mr Trump’s defence team has tried to dismiss revelations that a forthcoming book from Mr Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, accuses Mr Trump of saying he was withholding aid to Ukraine until Kyiv complied with his demands to publicly announce investigations into Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential contender and former US vice-president.

Alan Dershowitz, a constitutional law scholar and celebrity lawyer who is part of Mr Trump’s defence team, argued on Monday night that Mr Bolton’s claims were insufficient to justify the president’s removal from office.

“Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offence,” Mr Dershowitz said.

But James Lankford, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, said in a video posted to Facebook on Monday that senators should have access to the manuscript of Mr Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, which will be published in mid-March.

“We should be able to get access to that document, to be able to read that manuscript for ourselves,” Mr Lankford said. “That manuscript is pertinent and we should be able to get access to that manuscript to see what they’re actually saying. And I would encourage John Bolton, if he has something to say, [to] start saying it now.”

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Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican senator from South Carolina and close ally of Mr Trump, said on Twitter: “I totally support Senator Lankford’s proposal that the Bolton manuscript be made available to the Senate, if possible, in a classified setting where each senator has the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own decision.”

Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday morning that the Republican proposals were absurd.

“It’s a book!” Mr Schumer said, adding: “There is no reason to read it in a SCIF unless you need to hide something.” SCIF is an abbreviation for a sensitive compartmented information facility, where lawmakers and national security officials receive secure briefings about intelligence and other classified matters.

Democrats have called for witnesses including Mr Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has bristled at such suggestions, but some Republican senators have called for a witness “swap”, where Mr Bolton or Mr Mulvaney would testify in exchange for testimony from Mr Biden or his son Hunter, who previously held a lucrative board position with Burisma, a Ukrainian oil and gas company.

Mr Schumer accused Republicans of trying to create a “diversion”, adding: “Hunter Biden has nothing to do with the facts of this trial . . . requests to call Hunter Biden are an intentional misdirection, a distraction.”

The Republican-controlled Senate will vote on whether to call witnesses or admit fresh evidence in the impeachment trial only after Mr Trump’s legal team concludes its arguments, followed by 16 hours of written questions submitted by the 100 senators who are acting as jurors in the president’s trial.

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Four Republican senators would need to vote against their party’s leadership in order for witnesses to be called.

It remains unclear whether a handful of moderates will break ranks. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine both indicated on Monday that they were considering voting to call witnesses.

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