New bombshell in Trump impeachment
THERE has been a significant development in the Trump impeachment saga, with the President's former national security adviser John Bolton indicating he is willing to testify before the Senate.
One of the core critiques of the Democrats' case against Mr Trump is that it lacks first-hand witnesses to his conduct, and instead relies on officials who have knowledge of the President's actions but did not interact with him directly.
Mr Bolton's testimony would change that. He was a key figure in the events that led to Mr Trump's impeachment.
In a letter to investigators, written in November, Mr Bolton's lawyer claimed he knew about "many relevant meetings and conversations" which could shed new light on the President's alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation of his political opponent, Joe Biden.
Mr Bolton, he said, was "personally involved in many of the events, meetings and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far".
The Democrats argue Mr Trump abused the power of the presidency for personal political gain by withholding congressionally approved military aid - which Ukraine needed - in pursuit of that goal.
He now faces a trial in the Senate, which will determine whether he is removed from office.
Other witnesses have already testified that Mr Bolton was opposed to the aid freeze, and tried to convince Mr Trump to end it.
And one of them, former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill, claimed Mr Bolton told her he did not want to be part of "whatever drug deal" Mr Trump's confidants were "cooking up" in their dealings with Ukraine.
You can see why the Democrats want to hear from him. By all available accounts, he disapproved of the President's actions.
They sought to call Mr Bolton as a witness during their impeachment investigation in the House of Representatives late last year, but ultimately decided not to bother subpoenaing him. They wanted to conclude the inquiry promptly, and compelling him to appear would have required a months-long argument in the courts.
Mr Bolton would have been torn between two constitutional duties - on the one hand, to comply with the congressional subpoena, and on the other to follow a directive from the President not to testify.
By sidestepping that argument, the Democrats risked missing out on Mr Bolton's testimony entirely. But in a statement released overnight, he announced he would appear at the Senate trial if called.
"During the present impeachment controversy, I have tried to meet my obligations both as a citizen and as former national security adviser," Mr Bolton said.
"The House has concluded its constitutional responsibility by adopting articles of impeachment related to the Ukraine matter. It now falls to the Senate to fulfil its constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still unanswered constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts," he said.
"Accordingly, since my testimony is once again at issue, 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."
We still have one complicating factor to consider here, and it's a big one. There is every chance the Senate will not actually ask Mr Bolton to testify.
Mr Trump's Republican Party holds a majority in the Senate, and that means it gets to determine the rules of the trial. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he may not allow any witnesses.
Instead, he could facilitate a lightning quick trial with an equally quick acquittal.
To be fair, Mr McConnell hasn't ruled out calling witnesses either. It's still up in the air.
He has cited the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton in 1998 as a precedent. That lasted two weeks, and featured only a limited number of witnesses.
Whatever he decides, the maths are simple enough - if Mr Bolton is to testify, at least four Republicans will need to vote in support of calling him.
Even if that happens, the White House could still go the courts in an attempt to stop Mr Bolton from appearing.
The Democrats know what they want, and they're applying plenty of pressure.
"The President and Senator McConnell have run out of excuses. They must allow key witnesses to testify, and produce the documents Trump has blocked, so Americans can see the facts for themselves," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said overnight.
"The Senate cannot be complicit in the President's cover-up."
"It is now up to four Senate Republicans to support bringing in Mr Bolton, and the other three witnesses, as well as the key documents we have requested to ensure all the evidence is presented at the onset of a Senate trial," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
"Given Mr Bolton's lawyers have stated he has new relevant information to share, if any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we have requested, they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover-up."
The four witnesses in question are Mr Bolton, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mr Mulvaney's senior adviser Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, an official from the Office of Management and Budget.
Whether the Senate ends up hearing from Mr Bolton or not, Mr Trump is unlikely to be removed from office. For that to happen, a two-thirds majority of the chamber would need to vote to get rid of him.
Put another way, at least 20 Republicans would have to vote against their own party's President.
Despite its seemingly foregone conclusion, the trial will have huge political ramifications, with America's presidential election looming in November and Mr Trump seeking a second term.