In short: Trump is as bad as we thought, perhaps worse. According to the publisher, Bolton will describe Trump as “a president for whom getting reelected was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant endangering or weakening the nation.” Bolton even “argues that the House committed impeachment malpractice by keeping their prosecution focused narrowly on Ukraine when Trump’s Ukraine-like transgressions existed across the full range of his foreign policy.”
The response to this announcement was predictable — that, as Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) put it, Bolton “chose to sell books” when “the country needed him most.” Others echoed that criticism, and the Twitter hashtag #boycottbolton began trending.
If Bolton was trying to preserve and enhance the commercial value of his manuscript by avoiding testifying, he likely blundered: More people may well be dissuaded from buying the book than will rush to snap it up.
But Bolton’s supposed cash-over-country motive actually makes little sense at all.
Imagine the book Bolton could have written had he testified. Not only could he have told the story of Trump’s malfeasance, but he also could have depicted his own courage in coming forward, along with the possibly dramatic consequences. He might have changed history — and could have told that story firsthand. That would have been a blockbuster for the ages. John Dean’s “Blind Ambition” spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list, and copies of its 40th anniversary edition remain available for purchase. Had Bolton been motivated purely by profit or even simple self-aggrandizement, he could have maximized both by testifying.
Yet Bolton didn’t. The question is why. It wasn’t because Bolton feared Trump; he plainly does not. The promotional materials for his book, which tell us Bolton is perfectly happy to brand Trump an unfit, self-absorbed menace to America’s security, make that clear.
Bolton also didn’t hold back to help Trump, or to spite Democrats. Bolton obviously holds Trump in utmost contempt, and left any bridge to the administration in ruins when he departed last fall. He had every reason to tell his story, as he’s doing now. And had Bolton’s testimony led to a Senate conviction, the result, of course, would have been … President Pence. Republicans would have been better off.
Nor did fear of legal consequences keep Bolton mute. He obviously doesn’t think that Trump has any power to keep him from telling his story, under oath or otherwise; he’s publishing his book even though he hasn’t received clearance from the government. That means he doesn’t think anything he has to say is legitimately classified or subject to executive privilege, which in turn means he could have testified to it all six months ago. And even if he left some classified details out of the book, he could have testified about them behind closed doors.
The only way to make sense of Bolton’s behavior is to recognize that he actually did intend and expect to testify. He wanted to testify, but wanted to appear to be forced to do it. Perhaps he thought that, as a reluctant witness, he’d be less open to being caricatured as a disgruntled, discharged adviser, and his credibility would have been enhanced. So he insisted on a court order to appear before the House.
When that didn’t happen, Bolton began virtually begging to testify: He announced before the Senate trial commenced that “if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify” without any court order at all. During the trial, perhaps not serendipitously, word leaked about how Bolton’s book would establish a quid pro quo linking Ukraine security assistance to Ukraine helping to smear former vice president Joe Biden — and about how Bolton hoped to testify.
But Bolton made one fateful misjudgment. He overestimated the character, honor and patriotism of Senate Republicans. It would have taken just four, joining with Democrats, for the Senate to have issued a subpoena. But only two voted to hear Bolton testify. A Yale-educated lawyer, Bolton perhaps calculated that Senate Republicans would live up to their oaths of office, and to the separate impeachment-trial oath they took to do “impartial justice.” He assumed they would uphold the Constitution. Sadly, he was wrong.
For that miscalculation, both he and the nation — but especially the nation — have paid a great price.