Donald Trump has a problem on his hands, and that problem’s name is John Bolton.
Democrats have spent the last three weeks angling to convince the usual handful of persuadable Republican senators to vote for witnesses in the president’s impeachment trial, something Mitch McConnell has generally resisted. That effort is running out of time.
The person Democrats want to hear from more than anyone else is Bolton, and earlier this month, he indicated his willingness to testify if called. Trump suggested he’d block Bolton’s testimony on national security grounds.
On Sunday evening, The New York Times may have tipped the scales.
In a bombshell piece from Maggie Haberman, the Times says that according to an unpublished manuscript of Bolton’s forthcoming book, Trump did in fact explicitly say that he intended to keep nearly $400 million in congressionally-approved military aid frozen pending a promise from Ukraine to investigate Democrats and the Biden family.
And that’s not all Bolton says in the book. According to Haberman, Bolton spends “dozens of pages” i) describing Trump’s vocal disparagement of Ukraine (which some have suggested was encouraged by Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban), ii) contending that Mike Pompeo “acknowledged privately that there was no basis to claims” by Giuliani that Marie Yovanovitch was corrupt, iii) detailing efforts to consult William Barr after Trump’s infamous July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky, on which Barr was mentioned by the US president.
This comes just two days after Giuliani associate Lev Parnas turned over a tape of Trump instructing Parnas to “get rid” of Yovanovitch in 2018.
In Davos last week, Trump claimed that his objection to Bolton testifying has something to do with not wanting to offend other world leaders. “He knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders”, the president mused. “What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive?”
As Haberman notes, “Bolton’s submission of the book to the White House [for the standard review process] may have given White House lawyers direct insight into what [he] would say if he were called to testify [and] intensified concerns among some [Trump] advisers that they needed to block” that testimony.
The general consensus has always been that even if Bolton were to make an effort to avoid incriminating Trump, his testimony would be bad news for the president.
The closed-door and pubic testimony of Bolton aide Fiona Hill indicated that John was extremely displeased with Rudy Giuliani’s role in the Ukraine affair, going so far as to describe “America’s mayor” as a “hand grenade”. Bolton is also said to have referred to the Ukraine pressure campaign orchestrated by Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland as a “drug deal”.
Some reporting also suggests Bolton and Giuliani clashed in 2018 over Trump’s policy in Venezuela.
Bolton either resigned or was fired in September (depending on whose account you want to believe). Ostensibly, the last straw was an Oval Office discussion around the possibility of lifting some sanctions on Iran, but given the timing (September 10, within hours of Ambassador Bill Taylor lambasting what he called a “crazy” quid pro quo with Ukraine) one can’t help but wonder if Bolton was also keen on grabbing one of the few remaining life boats before the Titanic finally hit the iceberg.
“There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the president’s defense”, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said in a statement, after the Times published the account of the book.
McConnell declined to comment.