That’s ridiculous enough on its own. But at the core of this emerging defense is another absurdity so spectacular that it’s almost impossible to do it justice with mere words.
It is a reasonable possibility that Bolton has a level of direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking and motives in freezing military aid to Ukraine — one of the most corrupt acts at the core of this whole scandal — that exceeds that of any other living human being.
Yet Republicans are claiming they don’t need to hear from him, even though they have argued for literally months that Trump obviously didn’t have any corrupt purpose in freezing that aid, because no one can persuasively claim direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking and motives in doing so.
Bolton could very well supply the very direct knowledge Republicans have claimed to want for months. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans are showing no interest. This paragraph from the New York Times’ write-up is truly something to behold:
McConnell appeared unmoved by the development, and there was no immediate clamor from rank-and-file Republicans for him to change his stance. Instead, the loudest voices in the party on Monday were from a group of Republican senators who spent the day trumpeting a newly introduced resolution that would alter Senate rules to allow the chamber to dismiss the House case without a trial.
The GOP response to news of a potential witness with the direct knowledge Republicans have fake-lamented the absence of for months is to lurch even more aggressively toward not having any trial at all. Why have a trial when Trump’s acquittal is preordained, as McConnell has explicitly stated is the case?
Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) absurdly tweeted that the Senate doesn’t need to hear from Bolton, because it should be restricted to only considering evidence the House possessed when it impeached Trump.
Rubio somehow forgot to mention that the reason Bolton — and others with direct knowledge of Trump’s freezing of military aid to extort Ukraine, one thing for which he was impeached — didn’t testify to the House is because Trump refused to allow it.
Indeed, Trump refused to allow it precisely because Bolton and those others — who include acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — have direct knowledge of that corrupt act. Bolton privately met with Trump to urge him to release the military aid, which likely means he discussed Trump’s rationale with him.
Bolton was reportedly “aghast” at the aid freeze. And he has long let it be known that he’s prepared to speak to his personal conversations with Trump about it.
What Republicans have said
Back when Ambassador Gordon Sondland revealed that he personally informed a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the military aid was conditioned on carrying out Trump’s corrupt political deeds, Republicans endlessly asserted this was only “hearsay.”
In claiming this, Republicans widely took refuge behind Sondland’s claim that he had only “presumed” the aid was conditional. Sens. Kevin Cramer (N.D.) and Mike Braun (Ind.) both scoffed that this was only an “opinion.” Republicans madly hyped Sondland’s testimony that Trump never directly and explicitly told him to use the frozen aid to extort Ukraine.
That has always been a ridiculous defense: Sondland was acting at Trump’s direction all throughout, and Trump actually did direct Sondland, using mafia boss language, to convey to Ukraine that it must do his bidding, even as Ukraine was still desperately awaiting that aid.
But all that aside, the key point is that, now that it’s plausible Bolton can fill in the very hole Republicans themselves have claimed to want filled in, they don’t want to hear from him.
To be clear, we don’t know what Bolton would say. He might not further incriminate Trump in this regard. But that’s not even necessary to begin with: The extensive fact set that has already been firmly established is overwhelmingly damning on its own.
Trump used the power of his office to pressure a foreign leader to help him absolve Russia of sabotaging the 2016 election on his behalf, and help him rig the next one by smearing the potential opponent he plainly fears the most. And he corruptly had the White House and other agencies defy lawful subpoenas for witnesses and documents, obstructing Congress’ efforts to get to the bottom of all of it.
Bolton can only add to that record. Even if he surprises everyone and doesn’t testify to Trump’s corruption in freezing the aid, it won’t subtract from it.
Here’s the bottom line. Even if Senate Republicans successfully head off witnesses and rush through an acquittal, the whole affair will be forever stained by the indelible fact that they could only exonerate Trump by refusing to permit a full reckoning — and refusing to hear the very sort of testimony they themselves claimed to want for months.
That’s one fact that McConnell’s coverup cannot make disappear.