In defending President Trump at his Senate impeachment trial, his lawyers have hammered the point that no quid pro quo has been proved — that the House of Representatives produced no direct evidence that Trump had tied security aid for Ukraine to that country announcing investigations that would benefit him politically.
But no sooner had the lawyers begun making this argument over the weekend than the Bolton bombshell hit. According to a report in the New York Times, Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton has written in a forthcoming book that the president told him in August that he wanted the money frozen until Ukrainian officials promised the investigations he sought, including an inquiry into former Vice President Joe Biden.
The Senate should have sought Bolton’s testimony even before the latest news hit. But this sensational development makes it indispensable. It’s simply unacceptable for the Senate, which is deciding whether to remove Trump from office, to deny itself access to information that Bolton is willing to share with people who purchase his book. Republican senators who rush to a vote without calling Bolton — or other relevant witnesses, such as White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — will be dishonoring their oath to judge the case against Trump impartially.
Contrary to a claim by Trump, the House did request that Bolton testify during its impeachment inquiry, but he declined and the House declined to subpoena his testimony, fearing a protracted court battle. But it long has been evident that Bolton could shed crucial light on a question that Trump’s defenders have put at the heart of their defense. “Most of the Democrats’ witnesses have never spoken to the president at all, let alone about Ukraine security assistance,” Deputy White House Counsel Michael Purpura told the Senate.
Well, here’s their chance to hear from someone who did speak to the president. Bolton has made it clear that he has much to say on the subject and that he’s willing to say it if he is subpoenaed. Given what we now know from Bolton’s leaked manuscript, it would be a miscarriage of justice for the Republicans to turn a deaf ear in their zeal to protect the president.
Trump has denied that there was a quid pro quo; he and his defense team insist that he had other reasons for putting the aid on hold, including his concerns about Ukrainian corruption and his dislike of foreign aid generally. On Monday, Trump also denied telling Bolton that there was any linkage, tweeting: “If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”
But it’s not news that Bolton might have opposed efforts to press Ukrainians to investigate Trump’s political opponents. Fiona Hill, Trump’s former national security advisor on Russian and European affairs, testified in the House investigation that Bolton described as a “drug deal” efforts to condition a coveted White House meeting for Volodymyr Zelensky on the Ukrainian leader proceeding with investigations Trump desired. Hill also said that Bolton described Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and the architect of a shadow U.S. policy on Ukraine, as a ‘hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up.’“
If Bolton were subpoenaed, Trump probably would assert a claim of executive privilege. But Bolton’s statements seems to leave open the possibility that, like the current and former officials who testified in the House, he would speak his piece despite opposition from the White House.
To reach the majority vote needed to summon Bolton and other witnesses to testify, four Republican senators would have to cross the aisle and vote in favor. But that’s what is necessary for the president and the country to receive a full and fair trial. Even before the report about Bolton’s book, there was no rational argument for forgoing witness testimony. But protestations by Republicans that witness testimony is unnecessary ring especially hollow now.