Search the transcript of Saturday’s impeachment trial, as President Trump’s lawyers began their opening arguments, and you’ll see there’s a name nowhere to be found: John Bolton, the former national security adviser.
The New York Times reported Sunday night that Bolton submitted his manuscript to the White House for pre-publication review four weeks ago. Which means, in all likelihood, that at least some members of the president’s defense team have known exactly what Bolton would say if called to the stand.
According to the Times, Bolton’s manuscript states, among other things, that President Trump told Bolton “in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 in million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” Trump reportedly said “he preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials turned over all materials … that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine.”
Quid. Pro. Quo.
We knew that already. But Bolton’s testimony would make that devastating conclusion inescapable, even to Republican senators who have striven mightily to blind themselves to the obvious.
Bolton, who has already announced that he would comply with a Senate trial subpoena, actually wants to testify, it seems. He wants to testify “for several reasons,” says the Times. “He believes he has relevant information.” (Gee, do you think?) He’s also rightly worried he’ll get trashed if he doesn’t testify and his explosive account comes out only later for $32.50 on Amazon. (One hopes he’d like to do it for the sake of the country, too.)
No wonder Trump’s lawyers so vehemently opposed Bolton’s being subpoenaed last week. No wonder they’ve been plotting with Senate Republicans to make sure that, if Bolton does testify, he does so in secret. No wonder Trump himself expressed concern last week about the possibility of Bolton testifying. No wonder why, on Saturday, none of the president’s lawyers dared even utter the word “Bolton.”
And no wonder that, just after midnight Monday, a few hours after the Times story came out, Trump tweeted a flat (but unsworn) denial of Bolton’s account: “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. … If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”
From Trump on down, they all know how damning Bolton’s testimony would be to Trump’s defense. Indeed, the leak of what’s in Bolton’s book shows how disingenuous the president’s defense has been.
Before the Senate on Saturday, deputy White House counsel Michael Purpura laid out the elements of that defense. Key among them: “Not a single witness testified that the President himself said there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a Presidential meeting, or anything else.”
He continued: “Most of the Democrats’ witnesses have never spoken to the President at all, let alone about Ukraine security assistance.” And: “The Democrats’ entire quid pro quo theory is based on nothing more than the initial speculation of one person” — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
If Bolton testifies to what’s in his manuscript, these arguments, weak as they are, will collapse. The words will come from Trump’s mouth, because Bolton will have put them there. The direct witness whose absence Trump’s lawyers trumpeted will have appeared.
And that witness would destroy the central defense Trump’s lawyers have raised. Which is that the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was perfect — factually, legally, and constitutionally.
Or, as Purpura put it on Saturday: “The Democrats’ allegation that the President engaged in a quid pro quo is unfounded and contrary to the facts. … The President was, at all times, acting in our national interest and pursuant to his oath of office.” The president has “done nothing wrong”; “rightly, he had real concerns” about “burden-sharing” and “corruption,” which was why he held back the aid.
Bolton begs to differ.
In light of Trump’s own arguments, it would now be preposterous, if it ever wasn’t, for the Senate not to call Bolton as a witness. To refuse to do so would ensure that the trial would be recorded forever in history as a GOP-orchestrated farce. And if the president’s defense is that Bolton is now peddling this tale of quid pro quo “only to sell a book,” fine. Let’s also have a look at the documents that could demonstrate who is telling the truth.
Trump’s own lawyers have framed the removal question as turning on proof of the president’s true motives. Well, here’s a witness who can tell us what the president, in a face-to-face conversation, said he wanted.
Trump’s lawyers complain that no witness talked to Trump about the linkage between the aid and the investigation. Well, here’s Bolton, ready, willing, and able to testify.
Trump himself claims that Bolton is lying. Well, there’s a tried-and-true way to find out if he is or is not.
Mr. Bolton, please raise your right hand.
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.
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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.
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