Self-defeatingly, it turns out.
On Tuesday, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said the Bolton account stemmed from “an unpublished manuscript” — that is, the book Bolton is writing about his time in the Trump administration, a draft copy of which the New York Times said contains the former national security adviser’s revelations. “Maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says,” Sekulow declared, implying that Times journalists cannot be trusted to properly represent the manuscript’s contents. “If you want to call that evidence — I don’t know what you’d call that — I’d call it inadmissible,” he said. Impeachment, he concluded, “is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts.”
Though certainly leaked, Bolton’s manuscript is not unsourced. Bolton was the senior administration official coordinating Trump’s foreign policy. He was literally in the room to witness last summer’s Ukraine maneuverings. Short of putting Trump on truth serum, Bolton’s words are about as authoritative an account as one could get.
Sekulow’s more comprehensible objection — that some mysterious, unpublished manuscript the Times says it has seen is not admissible evidence at an impeachment trial — is worse for the president. If the Times cannot be trusted or if a draft manuscript is insufficient evidence of presidential wrongdoing, senators can and should get their own live account from Bolton and question the former Trump aide by simply calling him to testify. He could at that time address the administration’s attempts to deny his story. There is only one reason to refuse to call Bolton: to avoid gathering relevant eyewitness evidence. In other words, Sekulow made Democrats’ case that senators should call Bolton before them to get his story in person.
Perhaps anticipating that the Trump team could not sensibly rebut the Bolton allegations or prevent his testimony, Sekulow and his colleagues repeatedly argued on Tuesday that, even if the Bolton account is true, the president still should not be removed from office, because doing so would “lower the bar” for impeachment. In fact, Sekulow would place the bar so high that even extreme abuses of presidential power would go unchecked. The Bolton account bolsters the already strong case that Trump used the leverage of his office to pressure a foreign government to attack one of his political rivals. This may not technically be a crime. (Though one can make a case it is bribery, the Democrats have played down that claim.) But there is no doubt the president betrayed his oath, the nation to which he promised to serve and the Congress that entrusted him to aid Ukraine, an American ally at war, with funds lawmakers designated for the purpose.
Insisting that Congress should tolerate a president who uses his office to pressure a vulnerable foreign government to harass the president’s political rivals — this is a last-resort argument. But it is the only one the Trump team has left.