Still, Trump and his aides were briefly alarmed two weekends ago, when The New York Times published details of a draft of former national security adviser John Bolton’s new memoir that undercut Trump’s Ukraine story. Bolton said Trump directly linked the aid hold up to Ukraine launching Trump’s desired investigations.
But by the middle of last week, it appeared the Senate didn’t have enough Republicans to call witnesses like Bolton and calm returned at the White House.
“The ‘oh shit’ feeling … is gone,” said the former administration official.
But in some conservative circles, Trump allies actually wanted the Senate to call witnesses, arguing that Trump couldn’t be fully vindicated unless senators heard testimony from everyone, including figures like Joe and Hunter Biden.
Steve Cortes, a member of the president’s reelection committee, said he preferred “a full slate of witnesses” in part because he wanted “not just acquittal but rather full exoneration.”
In addition to the Bidens, people like Cortes wanted to get other long-shot witnesses like impeachment leader Rep. Adam Schiff and the anonymous whistleblower, whose complaint sparked the impeachment probe. The goal was to embarrass Democrats and show the public that the Bidens are corrupt.
And recently as the first week of the trial, Trump told reporters he would like his own aides to testify, singling out Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, even Bolton. “I would rather interview a lot of people,” he told reporters. “Personally, I’d rather go the long route.”
Trump declined to participate in impeachment proceedings in the Democratic-controlled House, where his legal and political aides advised that his involvement would only legitimize the process. Yet he has since blustered in public about presenting his own defense, alarming aides and allies when he responded to Pelosi’s suggestion that Trump come forward and give his side of the story in person or in writing.
“I’d love to go. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be beautiful?” he told reporters. “I don’t know. I’d sort of love — sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces. I’d love to do it.”
But Trump eventually acceded to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push for a quick, drama trial and advocated for no witnesses. Trump deferred to McConnell in part because he has come to respect the Senate leader’s command of the chamber’s rules after watching him push through a tax overhaul bill and scores of conservative judges.
In recent days, Trump tweeted that he didn’t want witnesses. White House aides warned senators that having witnesses would take weeks or months to fight in court.
“No matter how many witnesses you give the Democrats, no matter how much information is given, like the quickly produced Transcripts, it will NEVER be enough for them,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “They will always scream UNFAIR. The Impeachment Hoax is just another political CON JOB!”
In White House talking points sent to surrogates, lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides emphasized the need to move on.
“House Democrats utterly failed to make their case when they had the chance,” according to White House talking points obtained by POLITICO. “Now, they’re trying to make up for their failure and salvage their baseless sham by insisting the Senate call new witnesses to testify.”
On Friday, senators voted to move on without witnesses.
On Wednesday, they will vote to move on for good.
Daniel Lippman and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.