(CNN)In reality, where we all live, the White House and Republicans scrambled Monday to deal with the situation created by John Bolton, who has blown the impeachment trial open with his leaked manuscript.
Trump’s alternate reality
In the cloistered confines of the Senate chamber, Trump’s defense team made its arguments as if the Bolton bombshell had no impact on their case.
“Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” said Alan Dershowitz, the first and only Trump defender to mention the manuscript said Monday.
“That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution,” he said, arguing that presidents routinely intertwine their personal interests with policy and that quid pro quo between world leaders is perfectly normal. “You cannot turn conduct it is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘personal benefit.'”
What Bolton knows
According to reports on a leaked manuscript of his book, Bolton alleges that Trump absolutely tied the release of US security aid to investigations by Ukraine into his political rival Joe Biden.
It all confirms and amplifies the storyline behind the charges that Trump personally abused his power and obstructed Congress.
More: 3 ways Bolton contradicts Trump’s defense
These are the bullet points from a much more in-depth story from CNN’s Marshall Cohen about how Bolton pokes holes in the defense Trump’s team is currently presenting:
– Quid pro quo confirmed, again
– No policy reason for aid freeze
– Firsthand accounts of Trump
Bolton’s book is called “The Room Where it Happened”
That last point about firsthand accounts is so important. Since most White House aides agreed to ignore House subpoenas, this is key first-hand testimony, confirming US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland’s account that Trump was directly orchestrating the pressure campaign.
Or, rather, it would be first-hand testimony if Republican senators want to hear it.
The cat is out of the bag
Whoever handed over the manuscript — Bolton’s attorney has blamed a White House review process — has unleashed Bolton’s allegations into the world. Regardless of whether Bolton actually testifies under at the Senate trial, he’s given his side in the court of public opinion.
Impossible to ignore
The Times reported the White House could feasibly block elements of his book from publication. The leak solves that too.
The White House had suggested that Bolton’s testimony could be blocked for violating Trump’s executive privilege. But now the White House would be blocking something that’s already known. However, Bolton could lose protection from prosecution for disclosing something that’s privileged or classified if he intentionally sidesteps that White House approval process.
Read more about how books are approved by the White House, at a little-known office within the National Security Council.
Stop it, John Bolton, says former Bolton aide
Bolton’s former chief of staff and longtime colleague, Fred Fleitz, worried about executive privilege and the President’s ability to get sound, confidential advice, asks in a Fox News op-ed for his former boss to withdraw his book.
Will Bolton change Republican minds?
Republicans feel blindsided by news of Bolton’s book. They shouldn’t.
Bolton basically begged to testify in the House impeachment hearings, but back then he wanted the imprimatur of a judge to protect him. His lawyer specifically said he had knowledge of things that hadn’t been reported. And, out of nowhere earlier this month, he said he would no longer require a judicial decision. He’d happily testify at the Senate trial.
The White House got Bolton’s book December 30. They didn’t tell Mitch McConnell.
But the fact that the White House had the manuscript for so long and didn’t bother to tell any of the Republicans serving as Trump’s jurors has caused some frustration.
Were they trying to bury it? Or did they just not think of it?
To oppose his testimony after Bolton’s accusations is willful ignorance of a direct allegation of abuse of power from someone spit out of the inner circle of the White House. And CNN’s Dana Bash reported today that even if Bolton’s name was not mentioned by Trump’s defense, it was all over the halls of Capitol Hill as senators assessed the fallout.
That doesn’t mean most Republicans won’t vote with the White House and oppose his testimony. But it does make that vote more difficult.
Democrats need four Republicans to subpoena Bolton. We still only know of two
Democrats need four Republicans to support their calls for Bolton’s testimony. Two — Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — have said they’ll likely want to hear from witnesses. Another, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is on the bubble.
More Republicans expected to support Bolton testimony
“It’s relevant and therefore I’d like to hear it,” said Romney, although he would not speculate about how it would affect his final vote on the trial. But stay tuned for more Republicans backing Bolton’s testimony.
“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who feel we should hear from John Bolton,” he said.
Romney was criticized by a colleague for his openness to witnesses.
“After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on!” said Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Twitter.
When does curious become committed?
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is, as yet, no more than curious about Bolton.
“I said before I was curious about what Ambassador Bolton might have to say. I’m still curious,” she told reporters Monday.
Historical note on Romney Republicans: Remember when John Bolton endorsed Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012?
Democrats, meanwhile, are invigorated
“The Senate needs to hear from Bolton,” said Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, the most at-risk Democrat in the Senate, on Twitter. “The American people deserve to hear from Bolton. If we can’t get Bolton let’s get a subpoena for the book!”
The arguments you’ll hear Republicans make against Bolton testimony
He’s just trying to sell books
Sen. John Barrasso, a solid Trump supporter, downplayed the Bolton news. “Yeah, there’s really nothing new here. It does seem to be an effort to sell books,” Barrasso said.
Here are the other arguments against a subpoena for Bolton:
Issues with testimony, executive privilege
GOP sources told CNN’s Manu Raju they expect the Senate Republican leadership to reiterate to their conference the arguments they’ve been making for weeks: That seeking John Bolton testimony would raise constitutional and executive privilege concerns,
It’ll take a long time
If the White House going through a protracted legal fight for his testimony would accomplish very little since Trump is expected to get acquitted anyway.
Not their job
Republicans in the Senate, as well as Trump himself, have argued it’s not the Senate’s job to conduct a probe. The House should have done it.
Of course abuse of power is against the law
When Trump’s defenders argue he has broken no law and committed no crime, they point to a paper written by a Harvard law school professor, Nikolas Bowie.
But they’re wrong, according to Bowie, who argues in the New York Times that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are common law crimes not specifically written out in statute.
Read: crimes so obvious nobody thought to pass legislation outlawing them.
“Abuse of power may be ‘unwritten’ in any code, and obstruction of Congress may be ‘implied’ by statutes, but these crimes are now as well established, well defined and destructive of the public trust as bribery or treason. If the President did what the House accuses him of doing, he can and should be punished.”
Irony alert: The media and Hunter Biden
Trump’s defense team spent much of the day Monday focused specifically on Hunter Biden and his involvement with Burisma. And while Trump has often complained there has not been enough coverage in the news media of this storyline, the case presented by his team rested largely on mainstream media reports.
Trump has repeatedly made unfounded and false claims to allege that the Bidens acted improperly in Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Witness swap? Not happening, Democrats say
Joe Biden, who spent most of his career sitting in the Senate alongside some of the very same people who are now pushing for Hunter Biden to testify, made clear that his son is not to be used as a bargaining chip. On the campaign trail Monday in Iowa he repeated a line he used over the weekend, saying that Republicans have maligned his “only surviving son” — a reference to the 2015 death of his son Beau Biden.
For all their efforts to push for testimony from Bolton, Senate Democrats are already fighting the idea that Hunter Biden might have to testify. The idea of a swap is an attempt to “feed red meat to their base but also red herrings to distract us from the central issue,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said on CNN Monday.
Kenneth Starr warns of “age of impeachment”
He singlehandedly brought about the Bill Clinton impeachment, so Ken Starr’s inclusion on the Trump defense team is an incredible thing. What does he offer to the process? In addition to his legal expertise, he’s a handy reminder of the Clintons, and Trump is always interested in reminding Americans of the Clintons.
As independent counsel more than two decades ago, Starr published the investigative report that bears his name and went into great detail about Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair, contributing to an intense partisan standoff that paved the way for today’s state of affairs. On Monday he stood before the Senate and warned about a “grave disruption of government,” and pleaded that all future impeachments must be bipartisan. It was a bizarre trip into an alternate reality where the 1990s never happened. Read here for our refresher on what happened back then.
One past impeachment witness speaks up
Another person hoping to re-cast the view of 1990s history is Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who had an affair with the President but was entrapped by Starr and then called to testify at Clinton’s impeachment, back when Republicans wanted to hear witnesses at impeachment trials and Democrats did not.
Lewinsky today has access to Twitter, which did not exist back then. She’s tweeted a pointed request to keep her out of the current proceeding (I’ve deleted her expletive here): “A gentle reminder for ways other than using my name re 1998. let’s not frame it by the woman + youngest, least powerful person involved: The Starr Investigation The 1998 Impeachment The Scandal of 1998 The Clinton Impeachment That Crazy, F####ed Up 1998”
The Senate impeachment trial continues Tuesday at 1 pm ET.
Guidance for the rest of the week from CNN’s Ted Barrett:
Trump’s legal team is expected to continue its opening argument although a White House official working with the defense lawyers would not provide guidance on what they will say. It’s the third and final day of their presentation. The White House official wouldn’t say how long their arguments will take but the team is not expected to use all 24 hours that were allotted to them.
After the defense ends its opening arguments, there will be up to 16 hours of questions by senators, submitted in writing to Chief Justice John Roberts, and then read aloud to the House managers and defense team. This will likely take two days but the exact schedule is not set yet, and some of the time could be yielded back.
Next, there will be four hours of debate, equally divided between the two sides, to argue on the question of whether to “subpoena witnesses or documents.” The trial organizing resolution says these arguments will be “followed by deliberation of the Senate, if so ordered under the impeachment rules.” Senators and aides are a bit blurry as to exactly how or if these deliberations might take place, since senators aren’t allowed to speak on the floor during the trial.
The big vote on whether to compel witnesses and documents likely will occur Friday or Saturday, Sen. John Thune predicted. A vote on the articles would happen sometime after that.