Four big takeaways from the explosive John Bolton bombshell
Four big takeaways from the explosive John Bolton bombshell
JANUARY 27, 2020
(Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
We have now learned precisely what John Bolton is prepared to tell us about President Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme. This is terribly inconvenient for Republican Senators who are frantically searching for ways to vote against hearing from Trump’s former national security adviser and any others who can shed fresh light on Trump’s corrupt conduct.
After all, new revelations might complicate their preordained vote for acquittal, and that must not happen before that vote is cast.
Bolton writes in an unpublished manuscript of his new book that Trump personally told him he was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine until officials there carried out the political dirty deeds he was demanding, the New York Times reports .
According to Bolton, he and Trump discussed the matter in August 2019, when Bolton and others were urging Trump to release the aid. Trump said he preferred not to until Ukrainian officials turned over materials related to two false theories — one involving invented Joe Biden corruption in Ukraine , the other concerning fabricated Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
This directly undercuts one of Trump’s key defenses — that the aid wasn’t frozen to coerce Ukraine into doing his political bidding. Here are four key takeaways:
Trump rage-tweeted that he “NEVER” told Bolton the aid was tied to those investigations, and reiterated that the transcript of his call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky exonerated him.
Nonsense. First, remember that Trump’s extortion demand was conveyed to Zelensky. This actually happened . Ambassador Gordon Sondland told a top Zelensky aide that the money was indeed conditioned on those investigations.
Trump’s propagandists claim Sondland freelanced this, based on his declaration that he merely “presumed” a link. That was always absurd: Sondland took direction from Trump throughout, and Sondland even testified that Trump told him to convey to Zelensky that he must do Trump’s bidding, even as Zelensky was desperate for the money.
But now we have Bolton prepared to testify that Trump himself directly confirmed this link to him, wrecking the “hearsay” defense. If Bolton were lying, you’d think Trump would want him to testify under oath, since Bolton’s account is set to appear in a book. Unless the game is to prevent his testimony to the Senate before the vote on Trump’s fate.
Separately, the transcript just does show Trump using the power of his office to pressure Zelensky. Trump cannot make this disappear through disinformation. And so, his actual claim is that there’s nothing wrong with having done this.
Bolton’s lawyer says he provided the manuscript to the White House on Dec. 30 for classification review — nearly a month ago.
Importantly, the Times reports that the manuscript may have given Trump’s lawyers a preview of what Bolton would testify. Note:
It also intensified concerns among some of his advisers that they needed to block Mr. Bolton from testifying, according to two people familiar with their concerns.
It appears Trump’s team wanted to block Bolton’s testimony for the express reason that Bolton would further incriminate Trump.
Trump’s lawyers have claimed at his trial that “not a single witness” has “testified” to “any connection” between the aid and the investigations. This weasel language is telling: If it’s true that no witness has testified to this, it’s precisely because Trump blocked witnesses who could testify to it, such as Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
We now know Bolton actually would testify to this, which illustrates that the only way to make that defense technically true is for Trump and GOP Senators to prevent him from testifying. Thus, that defense has been reduced to smoldering wreckage.
Ned Price, a National Security Council official from 2014 to 2017, told me that internal declassification processes in such cases suggest it’s likely Trump’s legal team did indeed access Bolton’s manuscript.
Bolton’s lawyer submitted it to the Records Management Directorate in the White House. Price pointed out that the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, is leading Trump’s impeachment defense, which likely means Cipollone did get his hands on it.
It was also widely known publicly that Bolton was shopping the manuscript around and that he’d indicated a willingness to testify at Trump’s trial — three weeks ago .
“The White House counsel has tremendous reach inside any White House, especially this one,” Price told me. “It’s within the purview of the White House counsel to review records in the possession of the executive office of the president. It’s almost certain he would have sought the manuscript.”
Jack Goldsmith, a White House lawyer under former president George W. Bush, adds that such manuscripts generally are internally circulated “widely.”
So it’s very likely the White House knows exactly how Bolton would further incriminate Trump — and that this is exactly why Trump doesn’t want him to testify.
GOP Senators may seize on Trump’s latest tweets to claim that, since he denies Bolton’s account, there’s no reason to hear from Bolton, reports CNN’s Manu Raju:
Many Senate Rs will very likely point to this tweet to say they don’t need to hear from Bolton since Trump denies it https://t.co/x3ITSfBbw7
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 27, 2020
This would be insane. The very fact that there is a dispute over something so absolutely central to Trump’s conduct should make GOP Senators want to hear from Bolton, since they themselves think of him as credible, and this would allow them to judge his testimony for themselves.
Taking the contrary position would be tantamount to saying we don’t need to hear from witnesses who contradict Trump’s protestations of innocence for the sole reason that the truth is what Trump says it is.
At this point, of course, this really is the position of many Trump defenders. But there is no longer any denying that any GOP Senator who goes along with this is willfully and knowingly carrying Trump’s coverup to completion.
When it comes to hearing new witnesses and evidence, GOP Senators have no arguments left. And no one is obliged to pretend there’s a shred of legitimacy to whatever excuses they do offer.