Friday, January 31, 2020
Thursday, January 30, 2020
By Carl Hulse
By Carl Hulse
WASHINGTON — In the end, the impeachment calculation nearly all Senate Republicans are making is fairly simple: They would rather look as if they ignored relevant evidence than plunge the Senate into an unpredictable, open-ended inquiry that would anger President Trump and court political peril.
As Republicans lined up on Wednesday behind blocking witnesses in the trial, their reasoning reflected the worry that allowing testimony by John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser whose unpublished manuscript contradicts a central part of Mr. Trump’s impeachment defense, would undoubtedly lead to a cascade of other witnesses. They in turn could provide more damaging disclosures and tie up the Senate indefinitely, when the ultimate verdict — an acquittal of the president — is not in doubt.
“For the sake of argument, one could assume everything attributable to John Bolton is accurate, and still the House would fall well below the standards to remove a president from office,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.
Republicans have offered myriad rationales for refusing new testimony: Gathering it was the House’s job. Calling more witnesses would lead to prolonged court fights over executive privilege. They had heard more than enough evidence to reach a verdict. There was not enough evidence to show they needed more information. Allowing the House to force the Senate into a drawn-out impeachment trial would set a dangerous institutional precedent. In essence, during what they hoped would be the final hours of Mr. Trump’s trial, Senate Republicans were constructing a permission structure for not trying to get to the bottom of what happened, with the hope that voters would find their explanations satisfactory and reasonable.
“We don’t need Mr. Bolton to come in and to extend this show longer, along with any other witnesses people might want, and occupy all of our time here in the Senate for the next few weeks, maybe even months,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and a close ally of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said Tuesday evening on Fox.
Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff and a top outside adviser to Mr. McConnell, made it clear that Republicans viewed the idea of calling witnesses as a disaster in the making.
“More witnesses = Hindenburg,” Mr. Holmes wrote Wednesday on Twitter, showing a picture of the flaming airship. “None of it changes ultimate acquittal.”
Mr. McConnell has maneuvered to head off the conflagration. In a private meeting with senators on Tuesday, he warned rank-and-file Republicans that he was short of the votes to thwart a Democratic call for witnesses, an unmistakable tactic to bring wavering lawmakers into line.
On Wednesday morning, he summoned a key swing vote, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to his office for a private meeting. She emerged refusing to speak about her intentions. And when the question-and-answer period opened later in the day, he gave the first question to three of the remaining Republican holdouts for witnesses: Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Ms. Murkowski and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. The move signaled that Mr. McConnell was singularly focused on providing them the answers they needed to feel comfortable ending the trial without more evidence.
Nearly all of the politically vulnerable Senate Republicans up for re-election in November have embraced their party’s strategy. They have made it clear that they favor taking their chances defending their votes against witnesses over trying to explain to voters loyal to Mr. Trump why they backed broadening an investigation into a president who is very popular with the Republican electorate.
Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican trying to hang on to his Senate seat in a state that has turned increasingly liberal, illustrated that point on Wednesday when he said he would not support additional witnesses. That stance is likely to draw considerable blowback from critics at home but endear him to Republicans.
“I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness,” he said in a statement, emphasizing that the House had already heard from plenty of people.
While polls show broad bipartisan support for calling new witnesses, Mr. Gardner, who protectively endorsed Mr. Trump’s re-election months ago, is keenly aware that he stands no chance without the wholehearted backing of the president. Republicans live with the reality that a critical tweet from the president can quickly send their campaigns into a tailspin, a point reinforced by the president’s latest warning shot on Wednesday morning.
“Remember Republicans,” he wrote on Twitter, “Witnesses are up to the House, not up to the Senate. Don’t let the Dems play you!”
Ms. Collins is the only Republican up for re-election who is now seen as a likely vote for more witnesses. She is the rare member of her party who still seeks to appeal to a broad range of independent and even Democratic voters as well as Republicans. Her fellow Republicans say they see her as being in a unique position, and they have given her ample running room to do what she believes is best for her re-election, even if it causes them problems.
Republicans insist that they have given the House case against Mr. Trump seriousreview and have found it wanting. They are also obviously chafing against the constraints of the trial, forced to sit quietly in the chamber for hours on end, when they are much more accustomed to making their presence known at hearings and during floor votes and then exiting at their convenience. The thought of the trial continuing, with no end in sight and the result preordained, incites despair in many of them.
But it is not just their schedules they see at risk if the Senate were to go down the path of new witnesses. Republicans have increasingly pointed to the fact that the Democratic-controlled House has forced the Republican-led Senate into an impeachment trial to the exclusion of almost all other activity under strict Senate rules. They say allowing the House to effectively freeze the Senate would set a dangerous precedent.
“To make something out of the two impeachment articles would send an incredibly bad message to every House after this,” said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership. “If you really want to shut the Senate down, just send them a vague article of impeachment.”
Democrats dismiss that complaint as well as the others raised by Republicans, saying they are simply in search of justification for failing to conduct a thorough review of the behavior of a president with a firm hold on voters who are essential to their individual political survival, as well as Republican control of the Senate.
“They keep coming up with excuses,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, who added that Republicans’ claims that witnesses would chew up weeks or months of Senate time were exaggerated and that he believed the testimony could be secured and wrapped up in a week or two.
If Republicans were so worried about precedent, he said, they should be concerned with what will happen if Mr. Trump is acquitted without the Senate taking the necessary steps to parse all the information it can about his conduct.
“If he’s allowed to completely stonewall, to do absolute obstruction on everything and not be held accountable, he’ll do it again and again, and future presidents will do it again and again,” Mr. Schumer said. “And this grand experiment we call democracy will have been fatally, fatally eroded.”
Still, Mr. Schumer conceded on Wednesday that his hopes of additional witnesses were growing fainter as the Republican leadership worked to lock down senators and bring the momentous proceeding to a close as soon as the vote on whether to call witnesses was concluded — a move now expected on Friday.
A slim possibility still existed that other Republicans would join Democrats and Ms. Collins and Mr. Romney in calling for more testimony, upending the party’s game plan. But nearly all Republicans were more than ready to vote, and they did not need new witnesses to confirm their verdict that it was past time to bring a speedy end to the trial.
To Senate Republicans, a Vote for Witnesses Is a Vote for Trouble
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
The revelations come as U.S. intelligence agencies have warned of probable Russian meddling in the 2020 election.
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
The former national security adviser has indicated that he would testify in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump if subpoenaed. Leaked passages from the manuscript of his forthcoming book indicate that, contrary to assertions by Mr. Trump and his defenders, the president unequivocally conditioned the release of foreign assistance to Ukraine on whether its government would investigate Democrats, including Joe and Hunter Biden, and furnish politically damaging information about them.
The revelations have bolstered the Democrats’ heretofore flagging case for calling witnesses in the trial — Mr. Bolton in particular — and produced fissures between the White House and congressional Republicans.
Mr. Bolton, an often vituperative and very hawkish conservative Republican, is ostensibly a political ally of Mr. Trump’s. It’s complicated, of course: Mr. Trump fired Mr. Bolton, reportedly because of the latter’s overly aggressive views regarding Iran; then again, Mr. Trump ordered the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran, a move that Mr. Bolton presumably supported. So Mr. Bolton’s motives for potentially undermining the president position may, at first blush, seem confusing. But there may be a method to the madness — four of them, in fact.
The first is patriotism. Although Mr. Bolton does hold extreme views about the use of American power, there is little doubt about his basic fealty to the United States constitutional system and to established American institutions. Having come of political age during the Cold War, he is a strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an opponent of Russia’s revanchism under President Vladimir Putin.
When Mr. Trump mused about withdrawing the United States from the NATO alliance in 2018, Mr. Bolton was reportedly distressed and rallied to keep it from happening. And, in questioning fellow Republican Jon Huntsman’s decision to serve as ambassador to China in President Barack Obama’s administration in 2011, Mr. Bolton said, “There is no patriotic obligation to help advance the career of a politician who is otherwise pursuing interests that are fundamentally antithetical to your values.” In other words, Mr. Trump’s frequent demeaning of the Atlantic alliance, his obtuse bromance with Putin, and his apparent acquiescence in Russian interference with the American electoral process may have persuaded Mr. Bolton to desert the president on principle.
Then there are his professional principles. Mr. Bolton, unlike Mr. Trump and some of the fiercest members of his inner circle, is a seasoned government professional with an informed respect for the institutional architecture and ethos of American foreign policy. Before becoming Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Mr. Bolton served as acting ambassador to the United Nations, undersecretary of state, assistant secretary of state and assistant attorney general.
Mr. Bolton reportedly characterized Mr. Trump’s meddling with aid to Ukraine as a “drug deal” — a crude metaphor for actions that violate his sense of foreign policy professionalism. He also disdained the president’s circumvention of normal diplomatic channels by informally enlisting Rudolph Giuliani, his personal lawyer, whom Mr. Bolton called a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.” Separate from his sense of patriotic duty, Mr. Bolton may have felt that Mr. Trump had so demeaned the integrity of the foreign policy structure that something radical had to be done.
Well, maybe. Another explanation is personal indignation and greed. Mr. Bolton spent much of his career dreaming of the national security adviser job, and reportedly lobbied the president for it for years. And, of course, his book is due to come out March 17, and these revelations are sure to make it an instant best seller (a fact not lost on the president: Mr. Trump’s backers have predictably cast him as a “disgruntled” former employee, and Mr. Trump himself has accused him of merely trying to sell books).
Let’s not judge John Bolton too harshly, though. He lasted almost a year and a half in a job under a famously mercurial president, and toward the end was reportedly unhappy in it. And his book, for which he received a reported $2 million advance, didn’t need this revelation to make it a hot item or line his pockets. So while I’m sure Mr. Bolton doesn’t mind a taste of revenge and higher book sales, in all likelihood the two more honorable factors feature more heavily in Mr. Bolton’s decision-making.
But there’s one more motive: personal ambition. This is not a man known for his humility. Don’t forget that Mr. Bolton harbors presidential dreams; he came close to a run in 2015, and he maintains a political action committee, through which he doles out money to Republican politicians. And even if Mr. Bolton has let that particular dream die, it’s unlikely that he has hung up his government spurs — instead, he may judge that the Trump ship is sinking and figure that Mr. Bolton might as well accelerate the process and try to position himself for a post in the next administration.
That short-term calculation of Mr. Trump’s political fortunes may not be sound, and Mr. Bolton may be a ruthless pragmatist. But if he does end up further exposing Mr. Trump’s duplicity, in the fullness of time Mr. Bolton will end up, however fortuitously, on the right side of history. That’s a better legacy than he might have secured merely as the third of Mr. Trump’s four (and counting) embattled national security advisers. If nothing else, this week’s revelations show Mr. Bolton, even after being unceremoniously fired by his president, is still one of the cagiest political fighters in town.
Jonathan Stevenson is a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and managing editor of Survival. He was the National Security Council director for political-military affairs, Middle East and North Africa, from 2011 to 2013.”