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GOP senators under pressure for witness testimony at Trump trial after Bolton revelations

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By Allan Smith  with NBC News Politics
Image: National Security Adviser John Bolton listens in the Oval Office on
National Security Adviser John Bolton listens in the Oval Office on Aug. 20, 2019.   -   Copyright  Alex Wong Getty Images file

Republicans on Monday cast doubt on a bombshell report that former national security adviser John Bolton alleges in a soon-to-be-released new book that President Donald Trump directly linked the withheld Ukrainian military aid and his push for investigations into Democrats.

And they also said that if the Senate now votes to hear from witnesses such as Bolton, senators better allow for Trump's preferred witnesses to be called to testify as well.

At least four Republicans would need to vote alongside all Democratic senators in order to secure new testimony. On the other hand, Trump suggested he would block Bolton's testimony and said last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that Bolton's testimony would present "a national security problem."

Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., are considered to be most likely Republicans to vote in favor of witnesses. They have yet to comment on Bolton's claims.

"If there is a desire and decision by the Senate to call Democratic witnesses, then at a minimum the Senate should allow President @realDonaldTrump to call all relevant witnesses he has requested," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted.

A day earlier, on Sunday, Graham told Fox News that seeking witness testimony would "throw the country into chaos," and said the Senate should get testimony from witnesses Trump seeks, like former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and the whistleblower, outside the impeachment process.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told "Fox & Friends" that if new testimony is approved, the Senate should hear from those Trump-sought witnesses too. Of Bolton's book, Hawley said "it's certainly going to sell a lot of" copies.

"Listen, I can't tell from the New York Times report what is actually being reported here," he said. "I can't tell if this is something new. I can't tell if they've actually seen the manuscript. It's all a bunch of hearsay and clearly it's an attempt to try to influence the course of the trial."

According to a manuscript of Bolton's book, obtained by The New York Times and not seen by NBC News, Trump told Bolton in August that the nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine would not be released until the country provided all of the information it had in connection to the investigations of Democrats the president sought. One month earlier, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens and Democrats.

Trump and allies have said the investigations and aid were not linked, though acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said late last year that the aid was linked to an investigation of so-called Ukrainian electoral interference in 2016. Mulvaney later walked back those remarks. Meanwhile, Trump's impeachment defense has argued in its "six facts" of the case that "not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else."

Democrats ramped up their call for witness testimony after the report on Bolton's book.

On Monday, Trump tweeted he "NEVER" told Bolton of a link between investigations and aid, saying Bolton was "only" making that assertion "to sell a book."

Fellow Republicans didn't seem shaken by Bolton's allegations.

Speaking with "Fox and Friends," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said "the timing" of the Bolton report "is a little interesting, isn't it?"

"But the best I can tell from what's reported in the New York Times [is] it's nothing different than what we've already heard, and as I said, no crimes were alleged and these events never actually occurred, the withholding of aid and the investigations," Cornyn said.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told MSNBC's "Kasie DC" on Sunday that, moving forward, you have to take into consideration whether there was "anything that would motivate" Bolton to make the assertions.

Elsewhere on "Fox & Friends," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he did not think witness testimony was needed in the Senate in light of the new claims.

"Not based on something - not based on all of the assumptions, presumptions, and hearsay and some anonymous source telling the New York Times about some draft manuscript when the facts have never changed," Jordan said.