Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Opinion Surprise, Mr. President. John Bolton Has the Goods. Who’s telling the truth about Ukraine? There’s one way to find out.
It’s just possible that common sense and reality have a shot at prying open the doors to the Senate chamber after all. After Republican senators claimed that it was perfectly reasonable to put a United States president on trial without hearing from any witnesses, a few of them are showing signs of recognizing that the truth matters. Or, at least, that the American people believe it does.
What’s changed? Shocking but not surprising revelations from John Bolton’s bookmanuscript, which The New York Times reported over the weekend, have made impossible to ignore what everyone has known for months: President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine to benefit himself politically, and against the strenuous objections of his top aides and both parties in Congress.
It’s refreshing to hear those words. And yet the fact that such a statement is noteworthy at all tells you how far from responsible governance Republicans have strayed. They hold 53 seats in the Senate, and yet the nation is waiting on just four — four!— to do the right thing and agree to call Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, and other key witnesses to testify in Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial.
A far more representative attitude in the Republican caucus was expressed by Roy Blunt, of Missouri, who said on Monday, “Unless there’s a witness that’s going to change the outcome, I can’t imagine why we’d want to stretch this out for weeks and months.” With this tautology Senator Blunt gives away the game: All witness testimony to date — all presented as part of the House impeachment proceedings — has only strengthened the case against Mr. Trump, but Republicans will not vote to convict him under any circumstances. By definition, then, no witness in the Senate could possibly change the outcome.
The reporting on Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which is scheduled for publication in March, has scrambled that strategy. Mr. Bolton’s foreign-policy disagreements with Mr. Trump have been public knowledge for months. Last fall, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and former Bolton aide, testified in the House that Mr. Bolton was alarmed by Mr. Trump’s aid-for-investigations scheme, which Mr. Bolton characterized as a “drug deal.”
In the manuscript, detailed descriptions of which were leaked to The Times, he recounts nearly a dozen instances in which he and other top administration officials pleaded with Mr. Trump to release the aid, to no avail. He describes Mr. Trump’s fixation on conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, and about the supposed corruption of Marie Yovanovitch, the American ambassador to Ukraine. He says that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted privately to him that he knew there was nothing to the theories regarding Ms. Yovanovitch, whom Mr. Trump fired last spring.
Mr. Bolton, a hard-line conservative with decades of service in Republican administrations, is no anti-Trump zealot, which makes his allegations against the president that much more devastating. And his decision to tell these stories publicly nearly certainly waives any claims of executive privilege Mr. Trump might try to assert over their communications.
Let’s not forget the newly revealed evidence that came to light on Saturday, in the form of a tape recording released by the lawyer for Lev Parnas, who had worked for Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, in the Ukraine scheme. Mr. Trump has denied even knowing Mr. Parnas, but on the tape the two men can be heard in conversation at a dinner in April 2018. “Get rid of her,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Yovanovitch. “Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”
In a late-night tweet, Mr. Trump angrily denied Mr. Bolton’s allegations. “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Mr. Trump wrote.
You know what would be a good way to figure out who’s telling the truth? Subpoena Mr. Bolton to testify under oath.
This isn’t a close call. A majority of Americans of all political stripes want to hear from Mr. Bolton, at the least. They believe, as do congressional Democrats, that you can’t vote on whether to remove a president from office without getting the fullest possible account of his alleged offenses.
But Senate Republicans have so far refused to hear from any witnesses or to demand any documents, following the lead of Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has never hesitated to undermine the country’s institutions if he thinks doing so will help his party. Mr. McConnell and nearly all in his caucus seem to imagine that if they block their eyes and ears and let their mouths run, the turbulence of impeachment will eventually pass.
This is a risky strategy. One reason good lawyers insist on deposing witnesses and subpoenaing documentary evidence is to avoid any unwelcome surprises at trial. Mr. Bolton has now provided the latest of those surprises. It is surely not the last.
The most galling part is that Republicans have already admitted how bad the president’s behavior was. Back in September, Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest defenders, said: “What would’ve been wrong is if the president had suggested to the Ukrainian government that if you don’t do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we’re not going to give you the aid. That was the accusation; that did not remotely happen.”
Except that it did, as Mr. Bolton is apparently willing to say under oath. Republicans don’t want him to do that because they don’t want Americans to exercise the simple good judgment that Mr. Graham once did.
Monday, January 27, 2020
By Noah Weiland
WASHINGTON — President Trump directly tied the withholding of almost $400 million in American security aid to investigations that he sought from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript of a book that John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, wrote about his time in the White House.
The firsthand account of the link between the aid and investigations, which is based on meetings and conversations Mr. Bolton had with Mr. Trump, undercuts a key component of the president’s impeachment defense: that the decision to freeze the aid was independent from his requests that Ukraine announce politically motivated investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter.
In their opening arguments on Saturday in Mr. Trump’s trial, the president’s lawyers asserted that Mr. Trump had legitimate concerns about corruption in Ukraine and whether other countries were offering enough help for its war against Russian-backed separatists, which his lawyers said explained his reluctance to release the aid. They also said that Democrats had no direct evidence of the quid pro quo they allege at the heart of their impeachment case.
Multiple people described Mr. Bolton’s account. A draft of the manuscript, which offers a glimpse into how Mr. Bolton might testify in the trial if he were called to, was sent to the White House in recent weeks for a standard review process.
Here are five takeaways.
Mr. Trump tied his willingness to release aid to Ukraine on investigations he sought.
During a conversation in August with Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolton mentioned his concern over the delay of the $391 million in congressionally appropriated assistance to Ukraine as a deadline neared to send the money.
Mr. Trump replied that he preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Hillary Clinton in Ukraine, referencing unfounded theories and other assertions that Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, had promoted about any Ukrainian efforts to damage Mr. Trump politically.
The president often hits at multiple opponents in his harangues, and he frequently lumps together the law enforcement officials who investigated his campaign’s ties to Russia with Democrats and other perceived enemies, as he appeared to do with Mr. Bolton.
Mr. Trump was at odds with his senior national security officials.
According to Mr. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper joined him in pressing Mr. Trump to release the aid in the weeks leading up to the August meeting.
Mr. Trump repeatedly set aside their overtures by mentioning assorted grievances he had about Ukraine, some related to efforts by some Ukrainians who backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and others related to conspiracies and unsupported accusations about, among other things, a hacked server at the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Bolton says he talked to Mr. Barr and Mr. Pompeo about Mr. Giuliani.
Mr. Bolton wrote that Mr. Pompeo privately acknowledged to him last spring that Mr. Giuliani’s claims about Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the American ambassador to Ukraine, had no basis, including allegations that she was bad-mouthing Mr. Trump. Mr. Pompeo suggested to Mr. Bolton that Mr. Giuliani may have wanted Ms. Yovanovitch out because she might have been targeting his business clients in her anti-corruption efforts. Yet Mr. Pompeo still went through with Mr. Trump’s order to recall Ms. Yovanovitch last May.
Mr. Pompeo lashed out at a National Public Radio host on Friday and Saturday after she asked him in an interview about Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal.
Mr. Bolton also wrote that he had concerns about Mr. Giuliani. He said he warned White House lawyers last year that Mr. Giuliani might have been using his work representing the president as leverage to help his private clients.
Among other names Mr. Bolton referenced in the manuscript: Attorney General William P. Barr. Mr. Bolton wrote that he raised concerns with Mr. Barr about Mr. Giuliani’s influence on the president after Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president. That call was a critical piece of the whistle-blower complaint that prompted the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Barr on Sunday denied Mr. Bolton’s account through a spokeswoman.
Mr. Bolton is willing to testify. The White House doesn’t want him to.
Mr. Bolton, who released a statement this month saying he would appear at Mr. Trump’s trial if he is subpoenaed, is prepared to testify before the Senate, according to his associates. He believes that he has relevant insight to present before senators vote on whether to remove Mr. Trump. He is also concerned, his associates said, that if his account of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine dealings comes out after the trial, he will be accused of withholding potentially incriminating material in order to increase his book sales.
Mr. Trump and the White House, however, do not want Mr. Bolton to appear.
The White House had already ordered Mr. Bolton and other key officials not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. The manuscript has intensified concern among advisers that they need to use a restraining order to block Mr. Bolton from testifying, according to two people familiar with their concerns. It was unclear whether they would be successful in doing so.
The manuscript introduced a significant twist to the impeachment trial.
The revelations from the draft of Mr. Bolton’s book could complicate the impeachment trial. A handful of moderate Republican senators who have signaled an openness to calling witnesses did not appear persuaded by the case that the Democratic House managers made last week at the trial, which The Times reported on Friday was heading as early as this week toward a vote on Mr. Trump’s acquittal.
Mr. Bolton’s revelations could unearth support among that group and a handful of other senators who have indicated they might be open to hearing from him. Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee said Friday he planned to wait until after Mr. Trump’s lawyers presented and after senators asked the lawyers questions to decide on whether to support new testimony and evidence.
At least one senator who will vote on impeachment was mentioned by name in the draft of the book: Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin. Mr. Bolton said Mr. Johnson was at a meeting last May with Mr. Trump in which the president railed about Ukraine trying to damage him politically.
If the Senate does vote to hear from Mr. Bolton, the trial could stretch deep into February.“