Bolton’s revelations are now roiling the Senate Republican caucus, and in coming days the pressure will mount for new witnesses and evidence. Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine are conceding that Bolton’s revelations strengthen the argument for hearing from him and others, and a few more GOP senators might be moving this way.
In this context, we keep hearing that Senate Republicans felt “blindsided." CNN reports that they “are frustrated that at least someone in the White House had the Bolton manuscript since the end of December and they were kept in the dark.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is also frustrated, the New York Times is now reporting:
According to people familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking, he was angry at having been blindsided by the White House about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which aides there have had since late December.
What’s morbidly amusing about this is that it’s actually self-incriminating. It’s deeply revealing about the true nature of the GOP coverup.
The real story here is that Senate Republicans knew for months that such explosive revelations from Bolton were a very likely possibility — and that this is precisely why they have resisted hearing Bolton’s testimony so aggressively.
Republicans knew Bolton would testify this way
Way back in mid-November, the New York Times reported that Bolton privately met with Trump in August and urged him to release the military aid to Ukraine, but that Trump was “unmoved.” This was amplified by testimony from Tim Morrison, a senior National Security Council official.
All throughout that period, Trump’s ringleaders in the extortion scheme — personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and Gordon Sondland — were negotiating for a public statement from the Ukrainians. It had to explicitly announce investigations smearing Joe Biden over a fabricated corruption narrative and validating lies about Ukrainian interference in 2016 that would absolve Russia of sabotaging our election for Trump.
We subsequently learned that Sondland directly informed the Ukrainians that the military aid was conditioned on this statement. The defense of Trump then became that Sondland merely “presumed” this, and that Trump’s motives for freezing the aid were pure.
It’s in this context that Democrats have demanded Bolton’s testimony. Bolton refused to testify to the House impeachment inquiry due to Trump’s blockade on witnesses and documents. And so, during the Senate trial, Democrats have noted two facts:
- A key defense of Trump is that no one who has testified heard him directly link the aid with the investigations; and
- Trump will not allow testimony from the very people who discussed this matter personally with him
Given those two juxtaposed facts, this will not be a real trial unless we hear from those people, who include Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. It cannot by definition be anything other than an effort to carry through Trump’s own coverup to completion.
Fake trial, sham acquittal
Senate Republicans have refused to hear from Bolton precisely because such witness testimony threatens to upend Trump’s defense that no one heard him make this linkage. Trump’s own trial brief makes this inescapably clear. It says this:
Not a single witness with actual knowledge ever testified that the president suggested any connection between announcing investigations and security assistance. Assumptions, presumptions and speculation based on hearsay are all that House Democrats can rely on to spin their tale of a quid pro quo.
Emphasis mine. Note the sleight of hand: It’s necessary to prevent Bolton from testifying in order to make it true that no one who discussed this with Trump directly ever “testified” — that is, to the House or Senate — that he drew this direct link.
It’s a nonsensical defense: Sondland actually did convey the link to Ukraine, having taken direction from Trump throughout. That call transcript itself shows Trump abusing his office to pressure a foreign ally. The entire scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy and our national interests to his own.
But regardless, the imperative of making that sentence in Trump’s legal brief technically true is the reason Senate Republicans don’t want to hear from Bolton. The fact that the only way to make this defense true is to block Bolton itself incriminates Trump.
The notion that Senate Republicans were “blindsided” by Bolton’s revelations underscores the corruption of this whole sordid game. They always knew it was obvious Bolton would tell us this — which is exactly why they opposed hearing from him. Their comically transparent “shocked, shocked” pose is meant to cover those tracks.
It may be true that Senate Republicans didn’t know the White House was in possession of Bolton’s revelations. But if this has landed them in a predicament, it’s because their own ongoing coverup effort blew up in their faces. No honor among Trump and his accomplices, apparently.
What actually blindsided Senate Republicans was that the details of Bolton’s account leaked before they could carry out their preordained vote to acquit. They were blindsided by this terribly inconvenient timing, which upended their coverup.