Senate Republicans reportedly complained they were blindsided by news reports, first in the New York Times, that Bolton’s impending memoir of his time as national security adviser will say Trump explicitly conditioned release of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine on the announcement of “investigations,” including one designed to smear former vice president Joe Biden. Blindsided? Really? Did they wear noise-canceling ear buds all last week while the House impeachment managers presented their case?
GOP senators know the truth of what happened. If they are indeed angry, the reason can only be that they believed direct evidence of the president’s guilt could be suppressed long enough for them to vote against witness testimony and give Trump the acquittal he demands in time for the Super Bowl.
“There is nothing new here,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), one of the president’s loyal defenders, claimed weakly on Monday. But, of course, Barrasso must realize that there is everything new in Bolton’s revelations.
Republicans complained loudly and consistently that the parade of witnesses who testified before the House impeachment inquiry about what Bolton called the Ukraine “drug deal” offered no firsthand testimony implicating Trump. This was always disingenuous, since Trump ordered all those in a position to offer such testimony not to cooperate with the House in any way. But that was the story, and Republicans were sticking to it — at least until now.
The title of Bolton’s book, to be published in March, is “The Room Where It Happened.” It reportedly says Trump personally told Bolton he was demanding a quid pro quo from Ukrainian officials: aid for investigations. “It’s all hearsay” was always a weak defense. Now, it’s not a defense at all.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might still try to wrap up the trial quickly, with no new evidence sought or accepted. But now that everyone knows what Bolton wants to say — you will recall that he has volunteered to testify at the trial — the coverup McConnell had planned would no longer have the slightest fig leaf of credibility.
The added problem for Trump is that the witness to his impeachable conduct is Bolton and not somebody else. Bolton is idolized by Republican foreign policy hawks such as Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.). They are not likely to believe, or publicly allege, that Bolton is lying. Indeed, Graham’s reaction Monday was that if the Senate decides Bolton should testify, then Trump’s defense should be able to call witnesses as well. Trump is said to want to call Biden and his son Hunter, though it is unclear whether the president’s lawyers agree.
Yet another problem is that Bolton reportedly raises questions about the knowledge and actions of several other top Trump administration officials, including Attorney General William P. Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Other witnesses put acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney at the center of the aid-for-investigations deal. If Bolton should testify — and he definitely should — then why shouldn’t the others as well?
Trump could try to invoke executive privilege to block or limit Bolton’s testimony, but precedent suggests that would only, at best, delay the inevitable. If the Senate wants to hear Bolton speak, it surely will.
Bolton submitted his manuscript to the White House on Dec. 30 for review against disclosure of classified information, according to a letter from Bolton’s lawyer. The White House says the manuscript’s distribution was restricted to some members of the National Security Council staff. But senators — especially Republicans — have a right to wonder whether the president’s legal team might have known these revelations were coming. And they have a right to wonder what else the White House knows but hasn’t told defenders who are being asked to climb farther and farther out on a slender limb.
Republican senators need to take a deep breath and take stock. Bolton has essentially proffered his testimony. He will tell what he knows very soon, either at this trial or in the pages of a book to be released just weeks from now. A quick and dirty coverup will not get endangered GOP senators past the election. It won’t even get them through the winter.
Bolton must speak. The Senate must listen.