“We deal with transcript evidence,” was Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow’s message to senators at the start of this afternoon’s session. “We do not deal with speculations, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all.”
Never mind that Bolton’s account, as reported by the Times, would seem to provide the very sort of firsthand evidence of the president’s malign intent that his defenders contend the Democratic House managers’ case has lacked. Never mind that Bolton may well have documentary records to buttress his claims—documents of just the kind that Democrats are demanding.
Graeme Wood: John Bolton knows what he’s doing
The defense’s relentless refrain? Nothing to see here. Instead, the former Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr delivered a pious hour-long lecture on the history of presidential impeachment, in which he argued that the case against Trump failed to clear the necessary bar of careful due process and broad bipartisan public and political support. “The Clinton impeachment, even though severely and roundly criticized, charged crimes,” Starr said, beseeching the senators not to adopt impeachment as a routine political exercise “tantamount to domestic war.”
Outside the chamber, as journalists darted after Republican senators in a frantic attempt to ascertain how the Bolton revelations might have altered the prospect of the Senate’s calling witnesses in the trial, the story was not much different.
Top Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the president’s ardent defender, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were said to be seething after being blindsided by the White House. The National Security Council staff has had a copy of Bolton’s manuscript for nearly a month, and senators had a chance to air their grievances about the latest developments in a private lunch just off the Senate floor. (Graham failed to appear at the morning GOP news conference, where he was scheduled to help deliver the party’s message of the day, but separately told reporters, “I want to see what’s in the manuscript.” He added, “But I promise you this: If we add to the record, we’re going to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, all these other people.”)
But at least in public, there was no immediate sign that the math for calling witnesses—Democrats would need at least four Republican votes—had changed meaningfully. “Many of them are keeping their powder dry, and that is the right thing to do,” the Republican whip, John Thune of South Dakota, told reporters about his colleagues as he squeezed past journalists into his office near the floor.
“I don’t know what it is,” Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told another scrum of journalists minutes later. Johnson had confronted the president in August about rumors that the aid was being held up for political reasons, and received an emphatic denial from Trump. “Right now, we’re talking about a leaked report. The bottom line is, we’re going to go through phase one” of the trial, before a separate planned vote on subpoenaing witnesses and documents.