Jan 28, 2020

Trump's defense team shifts from complacency to urgency

White House counsel Pat Cipollone arrives for the Senate impeachment trial. Photo: Olivier Doulery/AFP via Getty Images

Just days ago, Republicans were optimistic President Trump’s defense team could cruise to an acquittal by the end of this week, but many believe his lawyers now face a steep climb to stop a vote to allow new witnesses and drag out the impeachment proceedings.

The bottom line: Allegations in excerpts of former national security advisor John Bolton's forthcoming book — leaked to the New York Times for a story published Sunday night — have shifted the dynamic of the impeachment trial and threaten to upend Republicans' plans.

  • “It’s still possible it could end this week. But over the weekend Republicans were like, ‘Oh the White House doesn’t have to do anything, they should just run [the clock] out.’ But now they have to actually do the work,” a Senate GOP aide said.
  • A source close to Trump's defense team conceded that the Bolton leak was "a complication," but said even if what he claims is true "it doesn't change any of the core facts. The aid was released without any investigations. The meetings were given to [Ukrainian President] Zelensky," the official added.

What we're hearing: Republican senators and their aides are frustrated about the way the Bolton manuscript leaked, with some privately venting suspicions that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone must have known about its contours before a Saturday presentation on the Senate floor during which Trump's defense team asserted there was "no evidence anywhere" that Trump linked Ukraine aid to any investigations.

  • “I don’t see how it’s possible he didn’t,” one GOP aide told Axios. "My boss was pissed to read about it in the Times."
  • A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said in a statement Monday that Bolton's manuscript had been submitted to the NSC for pre-publication review but that "no White House personnel outside the NSC have reviewed the manuscript."

The president's defense team hardly acknowledged the Bolton leak Monday during its arguments on the Senate floor.

  • The first mention of Bolton came around 8:30pm when lawyer Alan Dershowitz asserted that even if Trump did what Bolton claims, it "would not constitute an impeachable offense."
  • The source close to the White House team said they don't plan to focus much more on Bolton beyond Dershowitz's brief mention of him. Instead they'll make their argument more indirectly, through media interviews and private communications with senators.
  • “The floor arguments are designed to be much broader," the source said.

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National Security Council says no other White House staffers saw Bolton manuscript

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The National Security Council denied Monday that any White House personnel outside of its purview had seen the manuscript of former national security adviser John Bolton's book that was submitted to the White House for review.

"Ambassador Bolton’s manuscript was submitted to the NSC for pre-publication review and has been under initial review by the NSC. No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript."
— National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot

Why it matters: Given that White House counsel Pat Cipollone is not part of the NSC, this statement appears to double as an on-the-record denial that anyone on President Trump's impeachment defense team reviewed Bolton's manuscript.

Go deeperArrowJan 27, 2020

Republicans fear "floodgates" if Bolton testifies

Photo: Yuri Oreshkin/TASS via Getty Images

There may be enough new pressure on Senate Republicans to allow witnesses at President Trump's impeachment trial, after the leak from a forthcoming book by former national security adviser John Bolton that contradicts what the White House has been telling the country.

Why it matters: This is a dramatic, 11th-hour inflection point for the trial, with an eyewitness rebuttal to Trump's claim that he never tied the hold-up of Ukrainian aid to investigations into Joe Biden.

Go deeperArrowJan 27, 2020

Bolton indicates more Ukraine details if book prevails over WH "censorship"

Former national security adviser John Bolton on stage at Duke University on Monday. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

Former national security adviser John Bolton said during a talk at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, he hopes his new book is "not suppressed" by the White House, according to journalists present in the room.

This is an effort to write history and I did it the best I can. We'll have to see what comes out of the censorship."
— JohnBolton's comments, per Bloomberg and the New York Times