Come to think of it, it is a little irritating that Washington is having a nervous breakdown about what Bolton may or may not have said about Trump and Ukraine in his manuscript and the guy can’t be bothered to so much as tweet about it.
No interviews. No statements confirming or denying the NYT story from Sunday night. Nada. Just suspenseful silence as Senate Republicans mull what to do about witnesses.
This drama queen must be having the time of life, knowing that the entire political world is momentarily hanging on his every move.
Ron Johnson’s request here is fundamentally the same as James Lankford’s request for Bolton’s manuscript this morning. In each case they’re asking the question, do we absolutely have to call this guy? Because if the Times’s account of the book is true and Bolton really does claim Trump mentioned an aid-for-Biden-dirt deal to him, then yes, they may have to call him after all and deal with that. But if it’s not true, either an outright fabrication or a gross exaggeration of what Bolton actually alleges, then it would be nice to know that *before* Republicans take up the issue of witnesses on Friday. Can’t he give them a hint? A wink and a nod? Anything?
Johnson said Bolton should clarify what he knows but suggested he do so outside the formal proceedings of the impeachment trial.
“Now that what has unfolded with the manuscript being leaked — by the way, exquisite timing, maybe suspicious timing — The Wall Street Journal has called for John to just come forward. Just tell the public what you know. I think that would actually be a smart thing. I’d encourage John to do that.”
Johnson said Bolton should do so “without involving the trial” and possibly go straight to the media.
All it would take to wrap this trial up by the weekend is a surprise John Bolton appearance this evening on CNN in which he tells Anderson Cooper, “Nah, Trump was fine on Ukraine.” That would lock down 51 Republican votes against calling witnesses. Outside chance of a “not guilty” verdict by late Saturday evening.
Counterargument, though: Shouldn’t Republicans want to call him either way at this point? I understand that they don’t want to prolong the trial if they don’t need to, but if the Times is wrong about what Bolton claims in his book then it’d be a political master stroke for the GOP to ascertain that fact at trial, under oath. If Bolton testified that Trump said nothing incriminating to him about Ukraine, the Times’s credibility would be smashed. The Democrats, so hopeful about Bolton’s testimony, would be humiliated. And the public would probably toss aside the rest of Adam Schiff’s presentation and zero in on Bolton’s testimony as the acid test of whether Trump was guilty or not. “They had all this hype for Bolton, and in the end Bolton said Trump was innocent. They really didn’t have anything on him!”
It would be an epic disaster for Dems. Whereas if Bolton testifies and confirms the Times’s scoop, that’s bad and will probably cost the GOP a few points on impeachment polling but maybe not as many points as if they declined to call him and then he confirmed the Times’s scoop in an interview. That would discredit Trump’s acquittal more than it would discredit it for Republicans to hear Bolton out under oath and decide that the quid pro quo may have happened but it just isn’t an impeachable offense under the Constitution.
Long story short, if they’re better off hearing from him at this point regardless of whether he exculpates Trump or incriminates him then why not call him? Swing a Bolton-for-Hunter-Biden trade and cross your fingers that Bolton doesn’t say anything so incriminating about some other major player in the Ukraine matter that the GOP then has to decide whether to call that person too. That’s when the trial would get really messy, and potentially long.
Lankford’s manuscript idea could prevent that potentially by giving the GOP some type of fig leaf to avoid calling him. (“The book was clear enough, sort of, that Trump did nothing wrong.”) But that plan has problems too:
Attempting to make the manuscript available to senators, however, could create a number of roadblocks. It is unclear whether Mr. Bolton’s publisher would be willing to release the manuscript or whether Mr. Bolton himself would be able to release it under the terms of his contract. In order for the Senate to subpoena the transcript, senators would have to clear a 51 vote threshold that would open up a floodgate of motions, an outcome Republican leadership would find unappealing.
Is there anything stopping Bolton from handing over the manuscript voluntarily, provided that it’s held in a SCIF in case it contains any classified information? All senators have security clearances to read classified info. Why can’t Lankford get the draft from him instead of from the White House?
There’s another reason why Johnson and Lankford don’t want Bolton to testify if they can find a way to prevent it. This latest leak from his book suggests that his criticism of Trump runs far beyond the narrow issue of the Ukraine deal. Democrats would doubtless try during his deposition to get him to comment on all sorts of grievances he was with the president, from policy to temperament to corruption. (Impeachment is a political process!) Just today, Vanity Fair claimed that Bolton has been telling GOP donors privately that Trump is “mentally unstable.” Imagine him saying that under oath, on tape, in evidence given to the U.S. Senate. Or this:
John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, privately told Attorney General William P. Barr last year that he had concerns that President Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton.
Mr. Barr responded by pointing to a pair of Justice Department investigations of companies in those countries and said he was worried that Mr. Trump had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries, according to the manuscript. Backing up his point, Mr. Barr mentioned conversations Mr. Trump had with the leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Xi Jinping of China…
Mr. Bolton’s statements in the book align with other comments he has made since leaving the White House in September. In November, he said in a private speech that none of Mr. Trump’s advisers shared the president’s views on Turkey and that he believed Mr. Trump adopted a more permissive approach to the country because of his financial ties there, NBC News reported. Mr. Trump’s company has a property in Turkey.
Trump’s lawyers would argue, probably successfully, that that’s irrelevant and shouldn’t be included as evidence at trial. Dems might fire back that Trump’s poor judgment about whether foreign leaders should do corrupt personal favors for each other in the course of routine diplomacy is exactly what the Ukraine quid pro quo is about, but in the end they wouldn’t care if it’s excluded from the trial. The verdict is assured either way. The point would simply be to get Bolton to talk about it and then to publicize his testimony by every avenue available. Do Senate Republicans really want a disgruntled former NSA who’s reportedly concerned about his boss’s ethics to be deposed with the whole country waiting to hear what he says?
Eh, he’s destined to do TV interviews in March once his book drops anyway. Hurricane Bolton’s going to make landfall. It’s a question of when, and what category it’ll be when it does.