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Trump lawyers, House managers field questions as Republicans try to contain fallout from Bolton revelations

The White House has objected to the publication of a book written by U.S. President Donald Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton that depicts Trump as playing a central role in a pressure campaign on Ukraine.

White House suggests Bolton book could not be published without the deletion of certain information

Senators spent more than 10 hours questioning prosecutors and defence at the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump, seen at a rally in Wildwood, N.J., Tuesday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

The White House on Wednesday objected to the publication of a book written by U.S. President Donald Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton that depicts Trump as playing a central role in a pressure campaign on Ukraine. The complaint came as the Senate impeachment trial entered a new, question-and-answer phase.

A letter from the White House National Security Council to Bolton's attorney said that based on a preliminary review, the manuscript appeared to contain "significant amounts of classified information" and could not be published without the deletion of this material. Some of the material was considered top secret, according to the letter.

"Under federal law and the nondisclosure agreements your client signed as a condition for gaining access to classified information, the manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information," the letter said.

Democrats view Bolton as a key figure who could help them solidify their case against the president, and reports about the book's contents appear to boost their arguments in the trial.

Democrats want to call Bolton, a foreign policy hawk in several Republican administrations, and a small number of other officials to testify. Many Republican senators, however, have so far resisted the idea of having any witnesses.

On the first of two planned days of questions to both Trump's legal team and the Democratic lawmakers who have served as prosecutors in the impeachment trial, the two sides were asked whether they agree Bolton should testify.

WATCH | Arguments for and against calling Bolton to testify:

Both sides in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump are asked to explain whether they believe former national security adviser John Bolton should be called to testify. 5:52

The letter said the White House would be in touch with Bolton's lawyer with "detailed guidance" for manuscript revisions.

Bolton's lawyer, Charles Cooper, released a letter Wednesday afternoon that he says he sent to the White House last week after receiving the NSC's letter.

In it, he says neither he nor Bolton believe any information in a chapter on Ukraine in Bolton's book manuscript should be considered classified. And he called on the White House to expedite its review of the Ukraine chapter given the possibility Bolton could be called as a witness in the impeachment trial. 

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, who is charged with abusing power and obstructing Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden. Allowing witnesses such as Bolton could inflict political damage on the Republican president as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3. Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump.

Contradicting Trump's version of events, Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations into Democrats, including Biden and the former vice-president's son Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton's allegations go to the heart of the impeachment charges. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid — passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists — as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival. Trump's legal team has argued that the evidence supporting that allegation is based on hearsay.

But late Wednesday evening, White House lawyer Patrick Philbin, in response to a question about whether foreigners' involvement in American elections is illegal, said if the information is credible, it is "relevant" to voters. 

"Information that is credible, that potentially shows wrongdoing by someone who happens to be running for office — if it is credible information — is relevant information for the voters to know about for people to be able to decide on who is the best candidate for office," he told senators.

WATCH |  Philbin suggests using credible information is not illegal:

White House lawyer Patrick Philbin tells senators that not all foreign interference in an American election is illegal. 0:15

White House officials privately acknowledge that they are essentially powerless to block the publication of Bolton's book but could sue after the fact if they believe it violated the confidentiality agreement Bolton signed.

The Senate is expected on Friday to vote on whether to call witnesses, including Bolton. Democrats need four Republican senators to join them in order to get a majority in the 100-seat Senate. Republican leaders are hoping to vote as quickly as possible to acquit Trump, leaving him in office.

Removing Trump from office would take a two-thirds majority. There are 53 Republican senators and none has publicly advocated removal. The Democratic-led House impeached Trump last month.

Trump lashed out at Bolton on Twitter. He said Bolton "couldn't get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn't get approved for anything since, 'begged' me for a non Senate approved job" and added that "if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now."

Trump said Bolton, who left his White House post in September, "goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?"

Republican congressman Mark Meadows, a strong supporter of Trump, said the president is good at reminding people of "the history of what has happened."

"I've learned a long time ago, the president is a lot more strategic in his tweeting than this member could ever comprehend," he told CBC News. "I can tell you it's the most effective way that he has found to communicate with millions of Americans. And he does that probably to a large extent better than anyone on social media has ever done."

Trump, who has denied Bolton's account, has said he fired Bolton. Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who served as a temporary "recess appointee" as American ambassador to the United Nations under Republican former President George W. Bush, has said he quit.

Democrat Eliot Engel, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, took issue with Trump's contention that Bolton never said anything about the Ukraine matter when he left his post. Engel said Bolton suggested to him in a Sept. 23 phone call that the panel should look into Trump's removal last May of Marie Yovanovitch as American ambassador to Ukraine, a pivotal event in the Ukraine matter.

Trump ousted her after his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others mounted a negative campaign against her at a time when Giuliani was pressing Ukraine to pursue the investigations at the centre of the impeachment drama.

In an interview Wednesday on CBS This Morning, Giuliani called Bolton a "backstabber."

Senators ask questions

Responding to a question from top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, lead House prosecutor Adam Schiff said there would be no way to have a fair trial without witnesses.

"And when you have a witness as plainly relevant as John Bolton who goes to the heart of the most serious and most egregious of the president's misconduct, who has volunteered to come and testify — to turn him away, to look the other way, I think is deeply at odds with being an impartial juror," Schiff said.

Senators submitted questions in writing to be read aloud by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial. 

The first question was submitted by three moderate Republicans who key to the witness vote the Democrats are trying to get the Senate to vote for.

Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski asked how they should assess the first article of impeachment— abuse of power — if Trump were motivated by multiple interests: "personal political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests" in his dealings with Ukraine.

Trump lawyer Philbin stunned many observers when he said that in the case of a mixed motive, "there can't possibly be an impeachable offence."

""Because it would be absurd to have the Senate trying to consider, 'Well, was it 48 percent legitimate interest and 52 percent personal, or was it the other way? Was it 53 percent and 47 percent? You can't divide it that way," he said.

"There's always some personal interest in the electoral outcome of policy decisions. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's part of representative democracy."

Dershowitz later doubled down on that argument, saying every politician believes that getting themselves elected is in the public interest so that motive alone cannot be consider corrupt.

"If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment," Dershowitz said.

Don't 'psychoanalyze a president': Dershowitz

Texas Republican Ted Cruz later asked, does it even matter if there was a quid pro quo?

Simply, no, declared Dershowitz, who said that many politicians equate their re-election with the public good.

"That's why it's so dangerous to try to psychoanalyze a president," he said.

WATCH | Dershowitz makes that point:

Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz argues that if a president issues a quid pro quo to a foreign country, it still does not constitute an abuse of power at the Senate impeachment trial. 2:15

Schiff appeared stunned by Dershowitz's position. "All quid pro quos are not the same," he retorted. Some might be acceptable, some not. "And you don't need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which. For one thing, you can ask John Bolton."

WATCH | Schiff responds to Dershowitz: 

Trump team lawyer Alan Dershowitz argues the U.S. president Donald Trump cannot be impeached because he was acting in what he believed to be the national interest. 5:36

'Wrong and corrupt, period'

Cruz, Schiff and Lindsey Graham later got into a war of hypotheticals, with Schiff attempting to draw an analogy to the Republican's pursuit of Hunter Biden by asking what if Obama had asked Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to do an investigation of Mitt Romney in return for the U.S. withholding funds that Ukraine needs to fight its war with Russia.

"Do any of us have any question that Barack Obama would be impeached for that kind of misconduct? " he asked.

Graham, asking a question on behalf of himself and Cruz, later shot back, asking if Obama had evidence that Romney's son was employed by a corrupt Russian firm, "Obama would have authority to ask [Russia] that that potential corruption be investigated?"

"For a president to withhold military aid from an ally or in the hypothetical to withhold it to benefit an adversary, to target their political opponent, is wrong and corrupt, period. End of story," Schiff responded.

There might be legitimate ways to investigate the matter, he said, but "under no circumstances do you go outside of your own legitimate law enforcement process to ask a foreign power to investigate your rival, whether you think there's cause or you don't think there's cause.

"And you certainly don't invite that foreign power to try to influence an election to your benefit." 

The whistleblower

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz raised the issue of the identity of the whistlebower, whose complaint about the content of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led to the impeachment inquiry. He asked if the individual had ever worked for or with Joe Biden in matters related to Ukraine. 

Schiff started his reply by explaining why the identity of the whistleblower is being protected and why that is so crucial. And he rejected any suggestion that intelligence committee staff played any part in producing the complaint. 

"I haven't met them or communicated with them in any way," he said. "The committee staff did not write the complaint or coach the whistleblower what to put in the complaint."

WATCH | Schiff explains why protecting the whistleblower's identity is essential:

Lead House prosecutor, Democrat Adam Schiff, responds to Alan Dershowitz's argument that Trump was acting in the national interest. 4:35

Biden also came up in another question from Murkowski and Collins. They asked White House counsel whether there was any evidence that Trump showed any concern about the Bidens' dealings in Ukraine prior to Joe Biden announcing his election bid.

"I can't point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden," Philbin replied.

Mr. Parnas goes to Washington

Ukrainian-born U.S. businessman Lev Parnas, who worked with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine, arrived in Washington from New York and headed toward the U.S. Capitol, but was refused admission.

He was trailed by TV cameras, photographers and sign-toting demonstrators.

Parnas, who has been indicted on multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud, false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records, stopped by Democratic Leader Schumer's office to pick up tickets to the trial.

But he never made it inside the chamber since no electronics are allowed in the Senate visitors' gallery, and Parnas has been ordered to wear an ankle bracelet to track his location as he awaits trial on the charges. 

Parnas indicated willingness to testify in the trial.

"The president knew everything that was going on with Ukraine," he told reporters.

Paranas's visit to the Capitol comes less than a week after a recording was leaked to ABC News that appeared to be of Trump telling Parnas and another since indicted Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, to get rid of then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

"Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it," says the voice on the recording, which ABC News reported appears to from a April 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C..

With files from Kazi Stastna and Stephanie Hogan of CBC News and The Associated Press

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