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GOP Lacks Votes to Block Witnesses     01/29 06:21

   President Donald Trump's impeachment trial is shifting to questions from 
senators, a pivotal juncture as Republicans lack the votes to block witnesses 
and face a potential setback in their hope of ending the trial with a quick 
acquittal. 

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump's impeachment trial is shifting to 
questions from senators, a pivotal juncture as Republicans lack the votes to 
block witnesses and face a potential setback in their hope of ending the trial 
with a quick acquittal. 

   After Trump's defense team rested Tuesday with a plea to "end now," Senate 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told senators he doesn't yet have the 
votes to brush back Democratic demands for witnesses now that revelations from 
John Bolton, the former national security adviser, have roiled the trial.

   Bolton writes in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to 
withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into 
Democratic rival Joe Biden. That assertion, if true, would undercut a key 
defense argument and go to the heart of one of the two articles of impeachment 
against the president.

   "I think Bolton probably has something to offer us," said Sen. Lisa 
Murkowski, R-Alaska. 

   Not in Trump's view. "Why didn't John Bolton complain about this 'nonsense' 
a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated," Trump tweeted shortly 
after midnight. "He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!"

   The uncertainty about witnesses arises days before crucial votes on the 
issue. In a Senate split 53-47 in favor of Republicans, at least four GOP 
senators must join all Democrats to reach the 51 votes required to call 
witnesses, decide whom to call or do nearly anything else in the trial. Several 
Republicans apparently are ready to join Democrats in calling witnesses.

   The two days set aside for questions, Wednesday and Thursday, also allow 
each side more time to win over any undecided senators pondering the witness 
issue. In the meantime, all will have the opportunity to grill both the House 
Democrats prosecuting the case and the Republican president's defense team.

   Held to submitting written questions to be read by Chief Justice John 
Roberts, senators are expected to dig into the big themes of the trial --- 
among them whether what Trump did or may have done rises to the level of "high 
crimes and misdemeanors" --- as well as pointed and partisan attacks on each 
side's case.

   Trump faces charges from Democrats that he abused his power like no other 
president, jeopardizing U.S.-Ukraine relations by using the military aid as 
leverage while the vulnerable ally battled Russia. Democrats say Trump then 
obstructed their probe in a way that threatens the nation's three-branch system 
of checks and balances.

   The president's legal team tried to lock up its case Tuesday and convince 
GOP senators that the president was right to ask Ukraine for investigations of 
Biden and his son Hunter and was well within his power to block the aid. They 
said he was not bound to abide by the congressional investigation.

   Trump complained anew at a Tuesday night rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, 
charging that "congressional Democrats are obsessed with demented hoaxes, crazy 
witch hunts and deranged partisan crusades."

   Trump attorney Jay Sekulow addressed the Bolton controversy head-on in 
closing arguments by dismissing the former national security adviser's 
manuscript as "inadmissible." Attorney Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard scholar, 
said earlier that even if Bolton's story is true the actions don't rise to an 
impeachable offense.

   Senate Republicans spent considerable time in private discussing how to deal 
with Bolton's manuscript without extending the proceedings or jeopardizing the 
president's expected acquittal. That effort lost steam as Democrats showed no 
interest, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying, "We're not bargaining with 
them."

   GOP senators were warned that if they agree to call Bolton or try to access 
his manuscript, the White House will block him, likely sparking a weekslong 
court battle over executive privilege and national security. 

   Nonetheless, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine appeared to 
be backed by others in the move to seek more testimony.

   Some Republicans including Sen. Pat Toomey want reciprocity -- bringing in 
Bolton or another Democratic witness in exchange for one from the GOP side. 
Some Republicans want to hear from Biden and his son, who was on the board of a 
Ukrainian gas company when his father was vice president.

   Those swaps, though, seem likely to fail as most Republican senators don't 
want to call Bolton and most Democrats would rather avoid dragging the Bidens 
further into the impeachment proceedings. The Bidens were a focus of defense 
arguments though no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged.

   "I don't know that the manuscript would make any difference in the outcome 
of the trial," said Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership. And some 
Republicans said they simply don't trust Bolton's word. Sen. Rand Paul of 
Kentucky called Bolton "disgruntled"' and seeking to make money off his time at 
the White house. 

   But John Kelly, Trump's former White House chief of staff, told an audience 
in Sarasota, Florida, that he believes Bolton. 

   White House officials privately acknowledge that they are essentially 
powerless to block the book's publication but could sue after the fact if they 
believe it violated the confidentiality agreement Bolton signed.

   Trump and his lawyers have argued repeatedly that Democrats are using 
impeachment to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and 
drive Trump from office. 

   "What they are asking you do is to throw out a successful president on the 
eve of an election," said White House counsel Pat Cipollone. 

   Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump's refusal to allow administration officials 
to testify only reinforces that the White House is hiding evidence. The White 
House has had Bolton's manuscript for about a month, according to a letter from 
Bolton's attorney.


(KR)

 
 
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