The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats are hoping John Bolton will bring down Trump. Good luck with that.

John Bolton, at the time President Trump's national security adviser, during an Oval Office meeting in Washington on Oct. 13, 2018. (Bloomberg)

Consider the irony: Senate Democrats are hoping that former national security adviser John Bolton — yes, John Bolton — will provide them with the bombshell testimony that brings down President Trump. In other words, they have pinned their hopes on a man they have vilified for years, and whose national security career they sought to destroy. Good luck with that.

Democrats want Bolton to take the stand in Trump’s impeachment trial because during the House inquiry National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified that Bolton was “furious” when he learned about a shadow operation in Ukraine, headed by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, that involved temporarily withholding U.S. military aid and pressing the government to investigate the business dealings of former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Hill said Bolton described Giuliani as a “hand grenade,” told her to bring her concerns about the matter to White House lawyers and declared that he didn’t want any part of “whatever drug deal” was afoot in Ukraine.

The latest Trump impeachment trial updates

No doubt that is all true. Bolton is a foreign policy professional. But none of this means that Bolton believes Trump committed an impeachable offense. He may very well believe Trump’s decision to withhold lethal aide to Ukraine, and to raise Hunter Biden with Ukraine’s president, was wrong. (If so, he’d be correct). But not every bad decision a president makes is impeachable. I’ll bet Bolton considers President Barack Obama’s decision to release five senior Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl — an act that the Government Accountability Office found was illegal — worse than a “drug deal.” Yet no Democrats called for Obama’s impeachment over it.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) opposed witnesses during Clinton's impeachment trial but wants them in Trump's. He should think twice, says Marc Thiessen. (Video: Marc Thiessen/The Washington Post, Photo: Julio Cortez / AP/The Washington Post)

Some have speculated that Bolton may be motivated to testify against Trump because of his acrimonious exit from the White House and his disagreement with some of Trump’s foreign policy decisions. Please. Whatever he thinks of the way Trump treated him, Bolton has been treated far worse by Democrats. Have they forgotten how they tried to ruin his professional reputation and filibustered his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, forcing President George W. Bush to install him in the post temporarily with a recess appointment? Or how, when Trump appointed Bolton as national security adviser, Democrats excoriated Bolton for being, as Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) called him, “a grave danger to the American people"?

As for policy disagreements with Trump, I’m sure there are many areas where Bolton does not approve of Trump’s foreign policy. But there are more where he does. Does anyone think Bolton is eager to bring down the president who launched the military strikes that killed Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani — and to do so to help Democrats who openly criticized Trump for launching that strike? Bolton obviously agrees with Trump more than he disagrees, or else he would never have joined his administration.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen's opinionsFollow

But all of this misses the larger point: John Bolton is above all a principled man. He will not perjure himself. He also will not undermine the office of the presidency out of spite. The speculation that Bolton would use his testimony to get revenge against Trump simply adds insult to the injury Senate Democrats have tried to inflict on Bolton’s distinguished national security career.

The fact is, Democrats have not spoken to Bolton and have no idea what he would say on the witness stand. It is not clear he even has any evidence that would help Democrats make their case against Trump. When he declared that he would not be part of any “drug deal,” he apparently distanced himself from the Ukraine discussion internally.

But if Bolton’s testimony were so critical to their case, House Democrats should have subpoenaed him to testify in their impeachment inquiry and then allowed the courts to adjudicate Trump’s invocation of executive privilege. Instead, they artificially rushed their half-baked impeachment inquiry to close it out before Christmas and then charged Trump with obstruction of Congress for appealing to the third equal branch of government — the judiciary — as is his constitutional right. In so doing, Democrats forfeited the high ground. If their case is deficient, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Regardless of whether and how Bolton testifies, Trump is going to be acquitted. The fact that Democrats are counting on Bolton to be the hero who rescues the doomed efforts by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to end Trump’s presidency shows how weak their case really is.

Read more:

Ruth Marcus: John Bolton is playing a very cagey game on testifying

Greg Sargent: John Bolton just made Mitch McConnell an offer he badly wants to refuse

Harry Litman: Bolton matters. But the documents probably matter more.

Jennifer Rubin: Pelosi’s strategy pays off: Now bring in Bolton

The Post’s View: Impeachment is back. Now comes a test of the Senate’s integrity.

The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment

Looking for more Trump impeachment coverage following the president’s acquittal?

See Dana Milbank’s Impeachment Diary: Find all the entries in our columnist’s feature.

Get the latest: See complete Opinions coverage from columnists, editorial cartoonists and the Editorial Board.

Read the most recent take from the Editorial Board: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

The House impeachment managers weigh in in an op-ed: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.

Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment from the Post newsroom.

Want even more? Sign up for the Opinions A.M. and P.M. newsletters, delivered to your inbox six days a week.