White House

Bolton’s Testimony Remains in Flux as Issue of Witnesses Divides Senate

National Security Advisor John Bolton adjusts his glasses at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 2, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
With neither caucus united behind a consensus negotiating position, it was unclear Tuesday whether a deal could be reached.

Will he or won’t he?

Nearly two days after the New York Times broke the news that John Bolton’s forthcoming book says President Trump conditioned military aid to Ukraine on investigations of Joe and Hunter Biden, it remains unclear whether or not Bolton will testify at the impeachment trial.

On Monday, Republican senator Mitt Romney told reporters it was “increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.”

“I have spoken with others who have opined upon this,” Romney said. “It’s important to be able to hear from John Bolton for us to be able to make an impartial judgment.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) said she remained “curious” to hear Bolton’s testimony, and Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) said in a statement that “the reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”

But the question remained who might become the fourth Republican senator to join 47 Democrats and provide a majority in calling for Bolton to testify. The Washington Post reported on Monday that senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania raised the possibility of a one-for-one witness deal, with Bolton’s testimony secured in exchange for the testimony of a witness the president’s defenders want to call. “If we get to witnesses, it will be a one-for-one or a two-for-two,” Senator Mike Braun (R., Ind.) told reporters Monday night.

Specifically, a trade of Bolton’s testimony for Hunter Biden’s has been discussed. And when asked about such a deal, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) said on Tuesday: “I think both sides are entitled to witnesses.”

But several other Senate Democrats who spoke to National Review in the Capitol on Tuesday threw cold water on the idea.

“I’m against that,” Illinois senator Richard Durbin said. “The notion that we’re going to trade you one possibly material political witness for one that is material — baloney.” He was, however, non-committal when asked if he’d vote for such a deal. “Well, let’s see,” he replied. “There have been a lot of theories” about witness deals.

Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden was firmer in his stance. “We’re not bargaining on this,” Wyden said. “I don’t want to be repetitive. I made clear that we are not negotiating. I support having witnesses who are relevant to the president’s conduct.” His clear implication was that the Bidens do not qualify as “relevant.”

Montana senator Jon Tester and Hawaii senator Brian Schatz were even more blunt, flatly refusing to vote for any Biden-for-Bolton witness deal. “Yeah, I would [reject that deal] because it would make the trial into a fallacy,” said Tester.  “I will make no trades of irrelevant witnesses for relevant witnesses,” said Schatz.

Meanwhile, Republican senator Lindsey Graham told reporters that any decision to hear from witnesses would open the floodgates. “If people want witnesses, we’re going to get a lot of witnesses. This idea of calling one and one makes zero sense to me,” Graham said. “I’ll make a prediction: There’ll be 51 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the whistleblower, and the DNC staffer at a very minimum.”

Earlier Tuesday, Graham’s colleague, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, had told reporters that Bolton was a “disgruntled” employee with a “multi-million-dollar motive to inflame the situation.” Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson argued otherwise, saying, “Personally, I believe John Bolton will tell the truth.” But Graham, when given the chance, declined to follow suit in either questioning Bolton’s motives or affirming the former national-security adviser’s integrity. He did say that he ultimately supported Oklahoma senator James Lankford’s idea to subpoena the manuscript of Bolton’s book so senators could review it in a classified setting without having to call Bolton to testify.

As the impeachment trial dragged on, it remained unclear Tuesday if any deal involving Bolton will actually happen. “So far as I know, there has been no witness deal,” Murkowski said shortly before the trial resumed Tuesday afternoon. Several other Republicans went even further, saying that no decision would be made about witnesses until Friday. With neither side committed to a consensus negotiating position, it seemed fair to wonder whether the extra time would make any difference.

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