Donald Dossier: Can I Get a Witness?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the Bolton saga will be drawn out for months, just the way he likes it.
By Daniel Malloy
You will hear from John Bolton. Those around the former national security adviser will dribble out the most salacious bits of his memoir at a fortuitous time in the news cycle. He’ll do an exclusive sit-down TV-network interview — let the David Muir vs. Lester Holt jockeying commence — perhaps right before the Republican National Convention. Or maybe he’ll testify in the House. But the man with unassailable right-wing credentials at some point is going to say what he knows about what he reportedly called a “drug deal,” cooked up by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine.
So why not rip the Band-Aid off right now, trot him out in the Senate to testify in the Trump impeachment trial? On the surface, it makes sense for vulnerable Republican senators: Make Bolton and Ukraine old news by fall, look reasonable to swing voters by demanding a serious review of all the relevant facts in this case. You might even be able to swing a Hunter Biden testimony for your trouble, a valuable chance to ding the Democratic presidential front-runner (what would Bernie ask him?!).
But they shut it down. Even the independent-minded Lisa Murkowski — so popular at home in Alaska that she won without GOP backing as a write-in candidate in 2010 — and the retiring moderate Lamar Alexander voted against witnesses. Alexander’s carefully prepared statement essentially said: Trump did it, but I don’t think it’s bad enough to remove him from office. And we don’t need more witnesses to tell us what we already know.
Two-thirds of that logic was exactly the same as what House Democrats said when they rushed through a vote before Christmas rather than waiting out court fights over subpoenas to Bolton, ex-White House counsel Don McGahn and others.
Bolton would be a pretty damning first-hand witness: The New York Times reports that his book manuscript has Trump withholding aid to Ukraine explicitly so it would undertake politically helpful investigations, and that Trump ordered Bolton to ask Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet with Giuliani to discuss said investigations last May. (Trump denies all this.)
Thing is, we already know through the White House’s own partial transcript of the “PERFECT CALL” that Trump asked Zelenskiy for the investigations himself. We know through voluminous testimony in the House impeachment proceeding that plenty of government resources were brought to bear to get this done. We also know, according to lawyer Alan Dershowitz, that if Trump thinks getting reelected is in the national interest, then he can use his governmental powers however he likes to achieve that goal, which is nice.
Trump’s superpower lies not in his nukes or his bureaucrats, though. It’s with his followers. That’s why the predominant motivator in the Senate Republican conference is fear.
A vote for witnesses, even if it makes political sense for the reasons listed above and common sense for wanting to know a full picture of what happened, is considered a vote against Trump, pure and simple. Fealty is paramount. A tirade or tweet thread could be devastating to swing state senators like Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Arizona’s Martha McSally — who must hold the Trump base together and hope for a big performance at the top of the ticket. Murkowski and Alexander are helping their pals. If everyone’s going to vote to acquit anyway, why drag this out and make the vote more painful?
After Friday’s vote against adding witnesses, we’re in the trial denouement, though the Senate agreed not to finish it off in the dead of Friday night. Better for TV ratings to have the State of the Union on Vindication Eve, then the acquittal vote on Wednesday, where Trump might even pick off a couple Democrats.
The bill will come due at some point. Though the White House is trying to fight the publication of Bolton’s book, saying it reveals a bunch of classified information, Bolton will find a way to get the word out at the right time. It’s more than Ukraine. Bolton reportedly has more gems up his sleeve about whether Trump acts abroad with his business interests in mind. And it’s in the best interest of Bolton Inc. to drop that one in October.
- Daniel Malloy