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'DEUS EX BOLTONA': John Bolton may have just provided Democrats with the plot twist they've been hoping for.
The New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt last night delivered a bombshell scoop in which President Trump's former national security adviser says the president directly tied the hold on $400 million in Ukraine aid to investigations of his Democratic rivals as part of an unpublished manuscript of Bolton's forthcoming book.
Bolton's account comes just as vulnerable Senate Republicans, who run the risk of incurring the wrath of an unrepentant president who demands unfettered loyalty, approach a critical vote in Trump's impeachment trial: whether to allow witnesses and new evidence.
There's cause for concern for Trump: Bolton's reported account contradicts the president's claim there was no quid pro quo. It upends the White House legal team's hearsay argument. And it makes the vote on calling witnesses, which a majority of Americans support, that much more difficult for GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.).
- “The odds of deposition for new witnesses is certainly rising dramatically,” one senior Republican official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly assess party dynamics, told our colleague Seung Min Kim after the Times story was published.
- Trump denied Bolton's account late last night: “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” he tweeted. “In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”
- And Trump previewed the line of defense we may see more of from his legal team today: "...President Zelensky & the Foreign Minister of Ukraine said there was no pressure and no problems. Additionally, I met with President Zelensky at the United Nations … and released the military aid to Ukraine without any conditions or investigations — and far ahead of schedule. I also allowed Ukraine to purchase Javelin antitank missiles. My Administration has done far more than the previous Administration,” he tweeted.
- Attorney General William P. Barr also denied a portion of Bolton's account: “that after the president’s July phone call with the president of Ukraine, he raised with [Barr] his concerns about Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani, who was pursuing a shadow Ukraine policy encouraged by the president, and told Mr. Barr that the president had mentioned him on the call,” per Haberman and Schmidt.
- Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told our colleague Matt Zapotosky that Bolton did not bring up Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky.
Perhaps presciently, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Power Up in an interview on Saturday the only thing that could potentially sway the votes of his GOP colleagues to calling witnesses would be what he called a “Deus ex Boltona.”
- “What if John Bolton called CNN tomorrow and says I'd like to spend an hour with Anderson Cooper?” King asked. “Or he calls The Washington Post and said, I'd like to sit down with your editorial board. That could change everything.”
- King also cast doubt on the limits of Trump's executive privilege: “What if John Bolton walked through the door tomorrow and said I want to talk to the Senate? Would Trump send the Secret Service to tackle him? Would they try to go get an injunction? I I don't know. I mean, as far as I know, that's an open question. But I don't think that executive privilege applies to a former person in the executive and if they want to talk.” Two sources familiar with Bolton's book told Seung Min and Josh Dawsey Bolton “is ready to testify in the Senate impeachment trial."
- “The privilege has traditionally been wielded as a shield, not a sword,” the New York Times's Charlie Savage writes of Trump's executive privilege power. “It has no built-in enforcement mechanism to prevent a former official from complying with a subpoena in defiance of a president’s orders, or to punish one afterward for having done so.”
King, who represents Maine with his friend Collins, declined to speculate on her status as a vulnerable incumbent but said that 90 percent of voters who called his office last week demanded witnesses and documents:
- “That was a couple hundred — two hundred or three hundred calls,” King told us. “That was mostly what we were hearing. There was some who said, 'This is a witch hunt, leave the president alone.' And there were some, 'He's terrible and get rid of him.' But most of the calls this week, at least as of yesterday, were, 'We think there ought to be witnesses.' I mean, that's reflective of the national polls … and even like 48 percent or 50 percent of Republicans think that.”
The authoritarian cliff: But perhaps mostly importantly, King stressed his colleagues need to look beyond their short-term loyalty to Trump and consider the historic ramifications of short circuiting the trial. King said if the second article of impeachment — obstruction of Congress, blocking testimony and refusing to provide documents — is “defeated,” it's “the countenancing of the largest, most dramatic transfer of power from Congress to the executive in American history.”
- This president’s strategy of withholding information “says the executive doesn't have to respond to requests from Congress for information,” King told us. “Number one, it makes the impeachment clause a dead letter. It's beyond preposterous that an accused should have total control over the availability of evidence in their trial. But that's what's happening here. You're saying a president who is accused of wrongdoing can completely stifle any availability of evidence, documentary or human, in the name of I don't know what — executive privilege. immunity, separation of powers, whatever.”
- If Congress finds the president has “an absolute right to stifle information that's available from the executive branch. that is, I think, the biggest step toward authoritarianism we've ever taken in our country's history,” King said.
- “That there are things at stake here that go way beyond Donald Trump in the 2016 election to the 2020 election. We're talking about a fundamental change in the way our government works,” he added.
John Bolton plans to say in memoir titled “The Room Where It Happened” that Trump linked Ukraine investigations to foreign aid in August. Book is unflattering portrait of Trump he hopes to publish March 17. Matching NYT story with a couple new details: https://t.co/BhGLw8LQPE pic.twitter.com/clTfR6xDAy— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) January 27, 2020
What else you need to know: Seung Min, Josh and Felicia Sonmez report that Bolton's book, "The Room Where it Happened," is scheduled for March 27 publication “but a White House review could attempt to delay its publication or block some of its contents.”
Who done it: Bolton's lawyer told The Post that “he submitted the manuscript to the National Security Council’s records management division on Dec. 30 for a standard review process to examine potentially classified information.”
- “It is clear, regrettably, from the New York Times article published today that the prepublication review process has been corrupted and that information has been disclosed by people other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript,” Cooper said in the statement.
- “The ambassador has not passed the draft manuscript to anyone else. Period,” Sarah Tinsley, a Bolton spokeswoman added.
The timeline underlines some ethical questions for the president's defense team:
- “What exactly did Trump’s Senate trial lawyers know about what Bolton wrote in his manuscript and did they say anything to the Senate that contradicted what they knew?” Politico's Ryan Lizza tweeted.
- Trump's lawyers take the Senate floor to continue presenting their argument at 1 p.m. today.
From the left: In a joint statement, the Democrats House impeachment managers said Bolton's “explosive revelation … directly contradicts the heart of the President's defense and therefore must be called as a witness at the impeachment trial of President Trump.”
- “John Bolton has the evidence. It’s up to four Senate Republicans to ensure that John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and the others with direct knowledge of President Trump’s actions testify in the Senate trial,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet.
SANDERS UNDER ATTACK: “Sen. Bernie Sanders faced a sudden barrage of attacks from his rivals Sunday amid signs that he was surging in the critical early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and closing the gap nationally with the race’s longtime polling leader, Joe Biden,” our colleagues Chelsea Janes and Sean Sullivan report.
- What's happening: “Several new public polls have shown Sanders on the rise, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he appears to have taken the lead,” our colleagues write. “A national Washington Post-ABC News poll published over the weekend showed Biden and Sanders in the clear top spots nationally — with Biden at 32 percent and Sanders at 23 percent among Democratic-leaning registered voters.”
The jabs: “I know I’m not the only Jewish candidate running for president. But I am the only one who doesn’t want to turn America into a kibbutz,” former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, a reference to the socialism shared by Sanders and the Israeli collective farm where Sanders worked decades ago.
- And from Biden: “After Sanders was criticized for promoting the endorsement of podcast host Joe Rogan, who has made disrespectful remarks about the transgender community, [former vice president Joe] Biden tweeted Saturday: 'Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time. There is no room for compromise when it comes to basic human rights.'"
WE'RE A WEEK FROM Iowa: Here's what else you need to know!
- Warren snags Register's endorsement: The Des Moines Register's Editorial Board endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) late Saturday night. " … she wants fair markets, with rules and accountability. She wants a government that works for people, not one corrupted by cash,” per The Register's editorial board.
- While newspaper endorsements are often scoffed at, “the data suggests that the Register’s endorsement may matter a lot more to candidates like Warren who are polling below 20 percent in Iowa,” FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley reports.
- The #YangGang is back: “Businessman Andrew Yang on Sunday qualified for the February Democratic presidential debate after earning 5 percent in a CNN Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire,” CNN's Devan Cole reports.
- Going from undecided to decided: Our Jenna Johnson follows a mom and her daughter as they wrestle with the decision on who to caucus for. -Given the amount of Iowans who are still making up their minds, you can bet this story is playing out in many homes across the state.
THE LATEST ON THE CORONAVIRUS: "The Chinese government struggled to cope with a worsening coronavirus epidemic as its official number of infections soared and the death toll rose to 80, while additional cases appeared in the United States," our colleagues Gerry Shih, David J. Lynch, Simon Denyer and Brittany Shammas report.
The situation here: "Health officials confirmed three new cases — one in Arizona and two in California — bringing the total to five," our colleagues write. "The patients — in Southern California, Chicago, Arizona and Washington state — had traveled from Wuhan, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. All are hospitalized."
- The CDC's response: "Health officials expect more American cases, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters. But the virus is not believed to be spreading from person to person in the United States, she said.”
The worst is yet to come in China: “Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said Sunday that the virus is developing the ability to spread more easily, while the vice minister of industry, Wang Jiangping, said demand for medical supplies is overwhelming China's ability to produce them,” our colleagues write.
KOBE KILLED IN TRAGIC CRASH: “Kobe Bryant, a five-time National Basketball Association champion and global sports icon who retired in 2016 before adding an Academy Award to his considerable trophy case two years later, died in a helicopter crash northwest of Los Angeles. He was 41,” our colleague Kent Babb reports.
- His daughter Gianna was also killed: “Gigi died with him and seven other people Sunday when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed near Calabasas, Calif. At 13, she had hoop dreams, hoping to one day play for the University of Connecticut. And she wasn’t shy about pointing out that she could more than fulfill any lingering dreams her father had,” our colleague Cindy Boren reports.
Remembering the “Mamba”: Presidents, fellow players and all-time greats were among the many to pay tribute to Bryant.
Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 26, 2020
Obama's tweet is now the second most-liked message ever.
NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell:
Jeannine & I are absolutely shocked to hear of the loss of one of my favorite people & one of the best basketball minds in the history of the game! Our hearts & prayers to Vanessa & his girls. @kobebryant you were my biggest fan, but I was yours #RIPMAMBA @NBA @espn @SLAMonline pic.twitter.com/Ll0BD6VWgr— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) January 26, 2020
Multiple teams honored Bryant, even through shot-clock violations:
Remarkable moment to start the Raptors-Spurs game. pic.twitter.com/thmt9ZU1Ra— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 26, 2020
- “Go ahead and keep crying, you won’t be alone. A huge hole has been cut out of Los Angeles’ heart, and the wound is breathtaking,” Plaschke writes. “Kobe was your childhood hero. He was your adult icon. For 20 years he was on posters in your bedroom, on the television in your living room, in the lunch talk in your school cafeteria, in the smack talk at your office water cooler, and ultimately riding on a truck down Figueroa Street while you cheered and bragged and bathed in his greatness. You watched him grow up, and this city’s relentless approach to sports grew with him, and soon, even with all of his off-court failings, many people felt they carried a little piece of him. "