New York, Jan 28 : At least three Republican senators have said they were open to witnesses like former National Security Adviser John Bolton being called to testify at the Senate trial overshadowing the defence of President Donald Trump after his reported claims about Trump freezing military aid to Ukraine.
The Democrat’s demand for witnesses hung in the balance on Monday needing just one more Republican to defect and the influential Senator Mitt Romney said it was increasingly likely that others from his party would join him in asking for Bolton’s testimony.
The New York Times reported on Sunday evening that Bolton, who had been dismissed by Trump, had written in a draft of his memoir that the president had tied the unfreezing of the $341 million military aid to Ukraine to the country’s leadership ordering a probe of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The aid issue is central to the Democrats’ claim that Trump abused his power and endangered national security by stopping the aid while US ally Ukraine was at war with Russia.
Bolton’s claim undercuts Trump’s lawyers’ assertions during the trial on Saturday that the freeze was not connected to the request for the probe but was to ensure that the new leadership in Ukraine was rooting out corruption.
Trump also denied it in tweet and added, “If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”
The aid was ultimately released without a probe and none of the witnesses produced by the Democrats during the House impeachment process only speculated or surmised that the probe and the aid were linked, they said.
But Bolton’s testimony would be from a party directly dealing with the president.
As the trial resumed on Monday, Kenneth Starr whose investigation of Bill Clinton was the basis for his impeachment in 1998, appeared this time as a defence lawyer.
He called the impeachment and the trial “a dagger” pointed at the “heart of the presidency” before turning to constitutional issues.
After the report by the Times, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tweeted, “John Bolton has the evidence. It’s up to four Senate Republicans to ensure that John Bolton, (Trump’s acting Chief of Staff) Mick Mulvaney, and the others with direct knowledge of President Trump’s actions testify in the Senate trial.”
The Republicans, who hold the majority with 53 senators in the 100-member Senate, blocked several attempts by Democrats’ to provide for witnesses when the rules were voted on the first day of the trial standing firmly by the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel.
When Trump’s lawyers finish their defence the Democrats will have another chance to ask for additional witnesses, including Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Trump issued a warning to would-be defector during an interview on Fox TV, “Some of them are running (for reelection, and I think it would be very bad for them” if they backed the Democrat’s demand.
The House impeached Trump last month on charges of abuse of power over his request in a July phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenstsky to probe the Bidens and obstruction of Congress for refusing to provide documents and witnesses requested by House investigators.
The Democrats’ say that asking for the probe amounted to soliciting foreign interference in US elections because Biden is the leading candidate for the party’s nomination to take on Trump in November.
Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow told the Senate on Monday it was not illegal for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate corruption.
The Democrats will not be able to get the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate to convict Trump and oust him from office and, therefore, the impeachment and the Senate trial is an outlet for their anger him and, more importantly, an extended election campaign against him.
Calling Bolton to testify is unlikely to get the Democrats enough Republican defectors to throw out Trump, but could add to their ammunition against Trump and lengthen the trial, which the Democrats want to end before the last State of the Union address of Trump’s current term scheduled for February 4.
But it could come at a cost as some Republicans have threatened to call the Bidens as witnesses to embarrass them and the party.
The crux of the case against is that he asked Ukrainian PresidentAVolodymyr Zelentsky during a July phone call to probe the Bidens as a favour.A
Democrats say that his amounted to inviting foreign involvement in US elections and delaying aid was an illegal attempt to use it pressure Ukraine.
Hunter Biden was made a director of a Ukrainian gas compnayAeven though he had no experience in the area and the former vice presidentAhad the prosecutorAlooking into the company fired.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)