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.
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.
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.
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.