Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats to include a deal on former national security adviser John Bolton‘s testimony in the impeachment trial rules.
Democrats forced a vote in the early morning hours Wednesday on calling Bolton to testify, but it was tabled, effectively pigeonholing it, in an 53-47 party line vote.
The proposal from Democrats would have inserted language into the trial rules resolution, which is expected to be passed later on Tuesday, to subpoena Bolton. The failed vote followed a similar unsuccessful effort to subpoena White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), speaking for the first time from the Senate floor, said Republicans and Trump were “afraid” to let Bolton testify because “they know he knows too much.”
“Ambassador Bolton is a first hand witnesses to President Trump‘s abuse of power,” Nadler said, characterizing Bolton as the “tip of the spear on national security.”
Nadler added that if the Senate blocked Bolton from testifying, Republicans would be participating in a “cover up.”
White House legal counsel Pat Cipollone lashed out at Nadler, saying he was making “false allegations.”
“You don’t deserve and we don’t deserve what just happened,” Cipollone said while addressing senators.
“The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you,” Cipollone added, sparking applause from within the chamber though it was unclear where it came from.
Nadler quickly fired back at Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, who had turned and yelled at the Judiciary Committee chairman. “The president’s counsel has no standing to talk about lying,” Nadler said.
The back-and-forth between both sides over Bolton’s testimony earned them a public admonishment from Chief Justice Roberts, saying they should remember “that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body.”
“I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” Roberts added.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is forcing a slew of votes on Tuesday to try to change the GOP rules resolution, as well as shoehorn in language calling specific witnesses and requiring the administration to hand over documents.
“What are our Republican colleagues hiding? Because if they weren’t afraid of the truth, they’d say go right ahead, get at the truth. Get witnesses, get documents. In fact, at no point over the last few months have I heard a single, solitary argument on the merits of why witnesses and documents should not be part of the trial,” Schumer said.
Bolton has emerged as a prime target for Democrats after he reversed himself to offer to testify in the impeachment trial if he is subpoenaed. His lawyer has said that he would have information relevant to the two impeachment articles and the months-long probe into President Trump’s decision to delay the aid to Ukraine.
“I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” Bolton said earlier this month.
Bolton, who left his White House post last year, witnessed key moments leading up to and following the July 25 call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Bolton allegedly described efforts by administration officials to press Ukraine for the investigations as a “drug deal,” according to witness testimony from the House impeachment inquiry.
But Republicans were expected to block the Democratic attempt to get an agreement on Bolton at the outset of the trial. The rules resolution being debated late Tuesday does not guarantee that additional witnesses or documents will be called. Instead, it sets up a vote after opening arguments and questions from senators on whether or not witnesses and documents will be in order.
If a simple majority votes that they are in order, both the House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team could then make motions to call witnesses. The Senate would then have to vote on whether or not to call those witnesses.
Democrats will need four Republican votes to support calling witnesses at the mid-trial juncture.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has indicated she is curious what Bolton might have to say, though she hasn’t committed to voting to call any witnesses.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) reiterated on Tuesday that he wants to hear from Bolton and anticipates he would vote to call witnesses later in the trial, but that he believes the vote on calling him should wait until after the initial phase of the trial.
“I will be in favor of witnesses I presume after hearing the opening arguments. I would like to hear from John Bolton,” he said.