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GOP senator says they've 'got to be able to see' Bolton manuscript before witness vote

Posted January 28, 2020 2:10 p.m. EST

— Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said Tuesday that senators participating in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial have "got to be able to see" the book manuscript of former national security adviser John Bolton before they vote on whether to include witnesses in the proceedings.

"We have to resolve in a couple of days if we need witnesses or not -- this is an issue that's outstanding that we don't have a good way to be able to answer," Lankford told CNN's Dana Bash. "We can't say six weeks from now we'll be able to see it. We've got to be able to see it in advance to be able to make that decision on witnesses in a couple days."

Asked if seeing the manuscript would "be in lieu" of having Bolton testify in the trial, Lankford said that was not what he was suggesting.

"No, this is read the manuscript to be able to see if we need to call John Bolton, so that question's unanswered," he said. "We won't know how to answer that question until we get through today's testimony, a couple of days still of questions. I'm just saying this needs to be a part of our information so we can make that decision about witnesses."

On Sunday, The New York Times, citing multiple people's descriptions of an unpublished draft manuscript by Bolton, reported Trump in August told his then-national security adviser that he wanted to continue holding military aid to Ukraine until the country helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump's purported statement, as described by Bolton, would directly tie the US military aid freeze with the President's requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his political rivals -- undermining a key pillar of the President's impeachment defense that the two circumstances are unrelated.

Trump's attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, his potential 2020 rival, are at the center of the President's impeachment trial. 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 Biden.

The news has placed new pressure on Senate Republicans to allow witnesses, including Bolton, to testify in the trial. Democrats have been trying to peel off four GOP senators in order to subpoena witnesses, including Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

When asked by CNN on Tuesday if she'd like to read his manuscript, Murkowski replied, "I think that Bolton probably has something to offer us. So we'll figure out how we're going to learn more."

Pressed on whether she'd actually vote to subpoena Bolton's testimony, she said: "We're going to have an opportunity for that on probably Friday."

The Republican-controlled Senate approved last week rules for the trial that delays the question of whether the Senate should subpoena witnesses and documents until after the Democratic House impeachment managers and the President's defense team concluded their opening arguments. Trump's team is expected to wrap up on Tuesday, and the Democrats finished presenting their case late last week.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, offered his support of Lankford's idea on Tuesday, writing in a tweet that the manuscript should be available "in a classified setting where each Senator has the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination."

Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, another potential swing vote in the trial, told reporters on Tuesday that he hasn't made up his mind about whether he wants to see the Bolton manuscript.

"I haven't decided on that to be honest with you," Scott said. "Folks have talked about using the manuscript as a way of getting the testimony ... I haven't considered if I'd find that acceptable or not."

The comments from Lankford received some pushback, including from Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who called it a "laugh out loud" proposal.

"They spent days criticizing us going into a secret bunker, and now they want to take a public document and put it in a secret bunker?" he said on Tuesday. "Whiff of desperation is what I'll call it."

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