Trump fans complained yesterday that the leak about Bolton’s book was a case of Democrats following the “Kavanaugh playbook,” offering a last-second bombshell to try to derail a looming political victory for Republicans. The Kavanaugh playbook didn’t work against Kavanaugh and it won’t work to prevent an acquittal here, but the point is clear enough.
Maybe James Lankford is following the Kavanaugh playbook too. The playbook on the Republican side after Christine Blasey Ford emerged in 2018 was to briefly delay the confirmation vote so that the FBI could interview a few select witnesses about what allegedly happened between Kavanaugh and Ford as teenagers. Those interviews resulted in a secret report that was made available to the Senate; the contents were reassuring enough to fencesitters like Jeff Flake and Susan Collins that they ended up voting to confirm.
Lankford wants a (temporarily) secret document to guide the Senate in this case too before it votes on whether to call witnesses. Give us the Bolton manuscript that the National Security Council is reviewing, he said to the White House yesterday, and let us see for ourselves what it has to say about Trump and Ukraine. Then we’ll decide if he needs to be deposed or not.
“I think getting that information first-hand would be really important for us,” Lankford said on Facebook after the second day of White House defense arguments in the impeachment trial of the president.
“My encouragement would be: If John Bolton’s got something to say, there’s plenty of microphones all over the country that he should step forward and start talking about it right now.”
In the meantime, Lankford said, senators should get access to the manuscript even though it’s going through a screening process to determine whether it contains classified information. All members of Congress have clearances to read classified information, Lankford said.
“That’s a minimum amount that we should actually be able to get and I am encouraging the White House, anybody that I can talk to to say: That manuscript is pertinent and we should get access to that manuscript to see what they’re actually saying,” Lankford said.
Lindsey Graham floated the same idea yesterday and doubled down on it today in light of Lankford’s proposal. Send the manuscript over to the SCIF, just in case the NSC hasn’t finished redacting the classified parts yet, and let the Senate see for itself what Bolton alleged instead of relying on assurances from whoever’s whispering to the New York Times.
I totally support @SenatorLankford‘s
proposal that the Bolton manuscript be made available to the Senate, if possible, in a classified setting where each Senator has the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination. https://t.co/e18nUfSMgI
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 28, 2020
Might be the cleanest way out of this mess for the White House at this point. Since the public can’t see what Bolton wrote, Senate Republicans could review the manuscript and assure the country that there’s nothing *so* terrible in there that it would require calling Bolton as a witness. Democrats would naturally counter that the manuscript is damning but the GOP would have the votes to block an attempt to subpoena him. A la Kavanaugh being confirmed, the momentary pause to review the new material would give some voters confidence that the Senate really did try to get to the facts, sort of, before making its decision. That’s good politics for Susan Collins and other GOP incumbents.
Except that the FBI report on Kavanaugh and Ford remained a secret. The Bolton book will be published eventually. Or Bolton will give an interview describing what he knows. Or both. What’s the next chess move for Lankford and Graham if they review the manuscript, insist that there’s not enough incriminating material in it to justify calling him as a witness, and then Bolton turns up on Rachel Maddow’s show and claims Trump told him personally that there was a “military aid for Biden dirt” quid pro quo deal with Ukraine?
Are Lankford and Graham going to claim that that information wasn’t in the manuscript at the time they reviewed it? Because Democrats could contradict them on that. And either way, Bolton’s public statements about what Trump knew will gift-wrap a Democratic “COVER UP!” attack on the likes of Collins and Cory Gardner. Realistically, any assertion by Bolton in the manuscript that he heard firsthand from Trump about a Ukraine deal would be grounds for subpoenaing him, whether what he heard was incriminating or exculpatory.
They’re better off hauling Bolton in, getting this over it, then falling back on the “unethical but not impeachable” defense. Trump won’t like it, but whatever. Get it all out now rather than ramming through an acquittal and having it look like a sham in hindsight once Bolton starts talking. At least then Collins and Gardner can tell voters that they heard the Democrats’ star witness before making their decision.
I think even MAGA Nation is resigning itself to the fact that Bolton will be called. This morning on the president’s favorite show Brian Kilmeade acknowledged that “I don’t see how you avoid bringing Bolton in now.” Last night Hannity half-heartedly floated his own version of the “bad but not impeachable” rationale, arguing that even if it’s all true and Trump did pursue a quid pro quo to condition Ukraine aid on Biden dirt, that’s okay because they got their aid anyway without having to impugn Biden:
Sean Hannity defends Trump: “So if you say ‘I want to kill this person,’ ok, what crime have you committed? Did you kill the person? No. Did you think about it for a second? Yeah but you didn’t do it.” pic.twitter.com/OTggEUkoXF
— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) January 28, 2020
He didn’t mention the fact that the reason they got the aid without having to impugn Biden was because by mid-September the whistleblower complaint was circulating and House Dems were starting to bang on Trump’s door about this. Zelensky was reportedly 48 hours away from going on CNN to announce that the Burisma probe would be reopened when Trump finally released the money.
The only reason Bolton’s book is a bombshell, notes impeachment opponent Rich Lowry today, is because of Trump’s narcissistic insistence on being absolutely vindicated by his loyal servants in the Senate instead of accepting a much more reasonable “bad but not impeachable” acquittal. Obviously there was a quid pro quo; obviously Trump knew about it per the lead role taken in the Ukraine pressure campaign by his top crony, Rudy Giuliani. If he were willing to let Senate Republicans tsk-tsk him perfunctorily about it, there’d be no need to call Bolton. The fact of the quid pro quo would have already been established, with the debate in the Senate a comparatively dry dispute over whether it amounts to a high crime or misdemeanor.
[T]he White House team is constrained by Trump’s smash-mouth instinct for total denial and total war, leaving them no option but to contest the underlying facts and complicate their own argument.
It makes no sense to say, on the one hand, that the House impeachment case fails for lack of firsthand witnesses, but, on the other, that there should be no first-hand witnesses. It is malpractice to go out on a limb saying no one has direct knowledge of a quid pro quo when a witness with direct knowledge, Bolton, is ready and willing to testify. It is foolhardy to make assurances that could easily — and probably would — be contradicted if the Senate did decide to call for any witnesses…
The way to make a case against witnesses and to inoculate against what Bolton or anyone else might say is to acknowledge that we know what happened and to maintain that, even if it’s blameworthy, it doesn’t justify removal.
I suspect Trump views this the way he seems to view so many other things, as a test of basic loyalty. Any president can get acquitted when their party controls the Senate. That’s simple partisan loyalty at work. What he wants is personal loyalty. When he says, “2 + 2 = 5,” he wants Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham not only to vote that 2 + 2 = 5 but to praise his math skills. So if Trump says “no quid pro quo” despite all available evidence to the contrary, *that’s* the true test for Senate Republicans. We may be looking at a scenario this fall in Maine in which Susan Collins loses reelection because she couldn’t turn out her base despite voting “not guilty” on impeachment. Not guilty’s not enough. Can she force herself to say there was no quid pro quo even after hearing Bolton’s testimony? Stay tuned.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s Lou Dobbs also preparing for a “Bolton’s gonna testify” universe in his own special way. Turns out the former NSA, a lifelong conservative and former guest on Lou Dobbs’s show, is a tool of the left.
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) January 28, 2020
Update: Schumer doesn’t like the idea of the manuscript being kept secret.
“What an absurd proposal,” @SenSchumer says of allowing senators to view the Bolton manuscript in a SCIF.
“There’s no need for it to be read in the SCIF unless you want to hide something.”
— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) January 28, 2020
It won’t be secret for long, though. And there’s a legitimate concern about inadvertently revealing classified info by publishing parts of it before the NSC has finished reviewing it.
Expect Dems to start arguing that the NSC should accelerate its review of the parts of the book having to do with Ukraine and to turn those over once they pass the vetting for classified material. How much of the book could realistically be devoted to that? A chapter at best?