U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyers resume their impeachment defense Monday, as Democrats renew calls for witnesses in the Senate trial after accounts emerged of Trump telling his then national security adviser John Bolton he wanted to withhold military aid to Ukraine until it launched an investigation of a key Democratic rival.
The New York Times first reported the allegations Sunday that appear in Bolton's upcoming book, "The Room Where It Happened," and they were later confirmed by other news organizations who spoke to people familiar with the text.
Trump is currently on trial in the Senate on two articles of impeachment, one of them alleging he abused his presidency by withholding $391 million in Ukraine aid while pushing Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, which interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump is also accused of obstructing congressional review of his Ukraine-related actions.
The president rejected Bolton's reported account in a series of early Monday tweets.
"I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book," Trump said.
A Bolton attorney said in a statement the text had been sent to the National Security Council a month ago to undergo standard reviews for classified information ahead of its release in mid-March.
The seven members of the House of Representatives serving as prosecutors at Trump's impeachment trial immediately renewed their calls for Bolton to be called as a witness, saying he "has vital information to provide" to the 100 U.S. senators acting as jurors deciding Trump's fate, whether he should be convicted and removed from office.
"During our impeachment inquiry, the president blocked our request for Mr. Bolton's testimony," they said. "Now we see why. The president knows how devastating his testimony would be, and according to the report, the White House has had a draft of his manuscript for review. President Trump's cover-up must come to an end."
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The lead House impeachment manager, Congressman Adam Schiff, told CNN on Monday, "The senators ought to hear him first hand. The senators should see the man testify live."
He said Bolton kept contemporaneous notes of White House meetings, which Schiff said "are more important than the manuscript" he has written. "The president is clearly trying to hide the truth here."
The White House blocked several current and former administration officials from testifying before House committees during the impeachment investigation, including Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, citing executive privilege to protect the sanctity of White House conversations.
Trump ousted Bolton from his post in September. Bolton says he is willing to testify at Trump's impeachment trial if the Senate subpoenas him.
The rules for the impeachment trial blocked any consideration of new witnesses at the outset, leaving only the possibility for a vote after both sides have made their presentations and the 100 Senators have had 16 hours to ask them questions. That discussion will come later this week, and Democrats will try to convince four Republicans to join them to get the simple majority necessary to vote in favor of witnesses.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone began his defense Saturday during two hours of arguments.
Cipollone said Trump's legal team does not believe the House Democrats came "anywhere close to meeting their burden" that Trump committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" -- the U.S. Constitution's standard for impeachment and removal from office.
Now, Cipollone and other Trump defense attorneys have said they will expand on their defense, in part focusing on why they believe there was nothing wrong with Trump's request last July to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, his son Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and the Ukraine election meddling theory. No evidence has ever surfaced against either of the Bidens.
The Republican majority in the Senate makes a conviction of the president highly unlikely given that such an outcome requires two-thirds of the senators to vote in favor.