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Bolton Should Testify In Impeachment Trial, Sen. Van Hollen Says


How did President Trump's lawyers respond to a new report that cuts to the heart of why he is being impeached? Well, they brushed it off. Here's how the president's lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, closed his arguments last night.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense. That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution. You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like quid pro quo and personal benefit.

KING: OK. The Bolton revelations refer to John Bolton, President Trump's former national security adviser. The New York Times reports that a draft of Bolton's forthcoming book alleges that the president directly tied military aid for Ukraine to a demand for investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden. Now, some Republican senators are considering whether to have Bolton called as a witness. Here's Utah Senator Mitt Romney.


MITT ROMNEY: I think it's increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.

KING: Another Republican senator, Louisiana's John Kennedy, had a different perspective.


JOHN KENNEDY: We now have allegations from Mr. Bolton. I think they would have more credibility if the allegations came from someone else.

KING: One Democrat who would like to see Bolton testify is Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He's on the line now. Good morning, Senator.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Good morning, Noel. Good to be with you.

KING: Good to have you. What do you think John Bolton would add as a witness?

HOLLEN: Well, if you heard the president's lawyers yesterday, they questioned the facts at the heart of this case, which is that the president abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to do his political dirty work by withholding vital security assistance and a coveted White House meeting. They've claimed that the facts don't support that. What John Bolton would do is testify under penalty of perjury on exactly that question. I think the evidence overwhelmingly supports the charges made by the House of Representatives. But to the extent Republicans question that, they have just highlighted the need to have John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney and others testify under penalty of perjury.

KING: I want to point out that you've been critical of John Bolton in the past on Iran, in fact, which is a very different topic. But I wonder why do you trust his account now? Is it because if he was testifying, as you say, he would be testifying under penalty of perjury?

HOLLEN: Well, that's a big part of it. Obviously, if you testified under penalty of perjury and you lie, you're subject to criminal penalties. You can be put in jail. All the House witnesses testified under penalty of perjury. Now we have the president's lawyers trying to present their case without any real sworn testimony. And John Bolton will do that. You're absolutely right. I've had big differences with John Bolton on fundamental foreign policy issues. But I do believe that when you raise your right hand and you're subject to penalties of perjury, the truth can come out. And you would think our Republican colleagues would want the truth to come out. That's the whole purpose of having an impartial trial, getting the facts. That's why it's so important that we get not just John Bolton but Mick Mulvaney and others and the documents.

KING: What is your response to Republicans who argue even if all of the allegations are true, not just the allegations about John Bolton but this whole case that we've seen unfold over the last couple of months, even if all of it is true, it's not serious enough for impeachment, it's not criminal behavior? This is the argument that Alan Dershowitz is making. Many of your Republican colleagues seem to agree, to believe it. What do you say to them?

HOLLEN: Well, first, Alan Dershowitz has reversed the position that he held not that many years ago. Now he's got the sort of in-between standard that says that criminal-like conduct is impeachable. If you look at the president's wrongful acts here, they are criminal-like. If they're not outright bribery, they're akin to bribery. If it's not outright extortion, it's akin to extortion. So Alan Dershowitz actually undercut his own argument by inventing this new standard. And if you apply that standard, President Trump could have said to Vladimir Putin, Vladimir, you can occupy all of Ukraine, and I won't resist that in exchange for doing political favors because that wouldn't violate any specific criminal statute. That's outrageous. And there are millions of other examples where clearly abusive conduct that rises to the level of impeachment would be protected under this Dershowitz theory. So it's a - that's why constitutional lawyers uniformly reject that. Alan Dershowitz, of course, is a criminal lawyer, not a constitutional lawyer.

KING: I've got to ask you about witnesses. If you want them, you will need four Republican senators to support that. Do you think you have those four Republican senators?

HOLLEN: Well, that's the big question. We don't know. You were just playing Mitt Romney's comments. Susan Collins has expressed openness to witnesses and documents. We need two more. This is the fundamental question as to whether or not people are seeking the truth. I proposed on the first night of these proceedings that we allow - not just allow but we direct the chief justice of the United States, the presiding officer, to decide in the first instance whether or not proposed witnesses and documents are relevant, whether they can shed light on this case. I was very disappointed that Republican senators voted against that because that would clearly have been the most impartial way to decide that. I may well renew that amendment once we get beyond this first phase. And we will have an active discussion about why fair trials in America require us to be able to call witnesses - in this case, witnesses that the White House specifically blocked the House from having testify.

KING: We've been asking your Republican colleagues this question, so I must put it to you. In just a few seconds, did anything in the president's defense change your mind in any way?

HOLLEN: It did not. If anything, I think the president's defense undercut his case. They brought up Ken Starr, who yesterday his testimony reeked of hypocrisy. He took positions yesterday the opposite - 180 degrees opposite from during the Clinton trial. They tried to diminish the role of Rudy Giuliani, who is clearly a starring actor in this whole scheme. So they really undercut their arguments and credibility.

KING: Your mind has not changed. Senator Chris Van Hollen, thank you so much for joining us. And I want to bring in NPR political reporter Tim Mak, who's been listening in. Tim, just quick, where stand the discussions among Republicans on voting for witness testimony for Bolton and others?

TIM MAK, BYLINE: You know, it's interesting. The Bolton news is one of the first things during this trial process so far that has changed the fundamental dynamics of whether or not Republicans might join with these 47 Democrats to create a majority that would ask for a subpoena. You know, you see even Republicans who don't support witnesses saying that it changes the nature of this question for a lot of their Republican colleagues.

KING: NPR's Tim Mak, thanks so much.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.