The Slatest

Senate Republicans Try to Decide Whether Bolton’s Bombshell Is Worth Hearing

Does this change everything, something, or nothing?

Former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton made explosive allegations against the president in his new book.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Sunday evening, The New York Times revealed that former national security adviser John Bolton, in the manuscript of his upcoming book, wrote that President Donald Trump had frozen $391 million in military aid to Ukraine specifically to pressure the country’s officials to announce investigations into the Biden family and a conspiracy theory about a Democratic Party email server. This was precisely what the president’s lawyers had begun arguing the day before, in the ongoing Senate impeachment trial, that Trump did not do.

Where Bolton had been a potential impeachment witness who might hypothetically have something relevant to say about the president’s behavior, he is now a potential witness who almost certainly would have something to say. This is a problem for the Republican caucus, which has voted repeatedly to put off the question of whether to call witnesses till later in the proceedings. If the scheduled six days of opening statements were boring enough, and the Democratic impeachment managers were rude enough, it seemed likely the Republicans could wait it out, declare that they’d already seen enough, and agree to move on to acquittal.

But now Bolton has made impeachment indisputably interesting. According to ABC, White House sources described the president’s legal team as gearing up for an “aggressive, drawn out legal fight to block testimony of potential witnesses.”

Will Republicans have to fight anyone from their own party to keep this impeachment trial witness-free? On Monday, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, said it was “increasingly likely” that more GOP senators will open up to hearing Bolton’s testimony.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is always almost ready to consider turning against Trump in any major controversy, put out a statement: “The reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.” She was, the statement said, “likely to vote to call witnesses“—preserving, as usual, the option to vote the other way.

Collins’ tag-team partner in making gestures at moderation, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), tweeted that she had “stated before that I was curious as to what John Bolton might have to say,” and that the “appropriate time for us to evaluate whether we need additional information” was “almost here.”

And the Washington Post reported Monday that Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Toomey was sounding out colleagues about a “one-for-one deal” involving “possibly summoning just two witnesses to President Trump’s impeachment trial, with one called by Republicans and one by Democrats.”

The bulk of the Republicans, though, have failed to back away from the original plan to keep witnesses entirely off the table.

Some appeared to be stalling. Indiana Sen. Mike Braun told MSNBC he doesn’t question Bolton’s integrity, but also doesn’t believe the case has been made against the president: “Now a snippet of what is probably going to be in the book has been released and we’ll all have to size that up and see what we think—how it impacts our own decision and what we do with more information.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham insisted that he needs to know more about Bolton’s manuscript itself before he can make a decision on whether the author should testify.

Others went on the offensive. Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler accused Romney of bowing to Democrats:

“We learned nothing new, nothing new,” said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, per Politico. “What we’ve now seen is a selective leak from a book. This is like Kavanaugh all over again.”

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said he is “still of the view that the House’s job is to put the case together and they didn’t do that,” while Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy encouraged everyone to “pop a Zoloft” and cited the ongoing circular problem that because the president’s associates are so unsavory, it’s impossible to trust what they say about the president.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune said he doesn’t think Bolton’s testimony “changes the facts.”

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley questioned whether Bolton, who claims to have had a conversation with the President about Ukraine, was even a firsthand witness.

If the president’s defenders have expanded their ever-growing definition of hearsay to include someone describing a direct conversation with the president, it seems that the only witness who could possibly shed light on the impeachment would be Donald Trump himself.