By Robert A. Vella
Another impeachment bombshell
A couple of weeks ago, indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas spilled-the-beans on President Trump’s attempted coercion of Ukraine just before the U.S. Senate began Trump’s impeachment trial. Parnas’ revelations, detailed in television interviews and supported by volumes of evidence given to the House of Representatives, did little to restrain Senate Republicans – led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – from trying to ram through a quick sham trial which would exonerate Trump by precluding witness testimony and documentary evidence.
Yesterday, right in the middle of the Trump defense team’s arguments, another bombshell landed on the president. It was dropped by unknown leakers regarding former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and the revelations directly contradict the defense’s rationale concerning why Trump withheld congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine last year (note: all the impeachment inquiry witnesses who testified last November also contradict Trump’s rationale). I’ll get to that shortly; but, first, here’s my take on why this has happened now.
Prior testimony confirmed that Bolton opposed Trump’s coercion of the Ukrainian government (to elicit its help to damage his presumed Democratic adversary in the 2020 election – i.e. Joe Biden), and that Bolton was angered when he was fired for not cooperating. Afterwards, Bolton signed a multi-million dollar tell-all book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster. The book was originally intended to be published ahead of the November elections, but now it is scheduled to be released earlier on March 17th – before the party primaries have concluded and well before the party conventions this summer (which choose the respective presidential nominees for the general election). Bolton is a longtime fixture in the GOP’s foreign policy ranks (dating back to the Reagan administration), and he certainly has plans to continue that career. When he was unceremoniously dumped by Trump, it is highly likely that Bolton felt personally and professionally aggrieved. People who occupy or have occupied positions of power, as Bolton has for decades, typically don’t fade away into irrelevancy without a fight; and, that’s exactly what I think Bolton is doing now. Furthermore, if Bolton does not testify as an impeachment witness, he will be justifiably criticized as a disgruntled malcontent who only wanted to monetarily profit from this scandal.
Who actually leaked these new revelations? I see only three plausible sources: 1) Bolton himself (who denies it), 2) the book publisher (who wants to make as much money as possible), and 3) officials inside the White House having access to the book’s national security preclearance requests (who also might want to expose Trump’s corrupt behavior and crimes).
Democrats ratcheted up their demands that former national security adviser John Bolton testify in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump after The New York Times published a report Sunday that said Trump told Bolton he wished to withhold military aid in order to pressure Ukraine into helping with politically motivated investigations.
In his upcoming book, Bolton writes that Trump directly and explicitly told him in August that he wished to withhold the $391 million in military aid to Ukraine that Congress had appropriated until officials there turned over documents related to the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Times reported, citing people who had seen the manuscript.
That revelation presents an existential threat to the Trump defense, which has maintained for months that Democrats couldn’t produce a single witness who could claim with firsthand knowledge that Trump linked the aid freeze to the investigations he sought. Bolton’s reported account also undercuts the White House’s justification for the hold on aid — that Trump wanted to pressure other countries to contribute to Ukraine’s defense, too.
But what happens off the Senate floor in response to the Bolton news may be more significant than what happens on it. The revelation underscores the peril facing Senate Republicans as they weigh a vote in the coming days on whether to allow additional witnesses and documents into trial evidence. So far, they have remained mostly silent while Democrats have renewed their calls for more evidence, though on Monday morning, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he thinks it’s “increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.”
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.
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.
- Bolton writes that he heard Trump say explicitly that the withholding of military aid would continue until Ukraine announced an investigation involving the Bidens — implicating Trump directly in a quid pro quo for the first time and contradicting the Trump team’s defense.
- He writes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said privately that there was nothing to the Trump team’s claims that then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was corrupt — suggesting that this was indeed a smear campaign and that Pompeo recognized it as such, even as he didn’t defend Yovanovitch publicly.
- He writes that he raised concerns about Rudolph W. Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine with Attorney General William P. Barr after Trump’s July call with Ukraine’s president — despite the Justice Department saying Barr learned about the call in mid-August.
- He writes that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was present for one of Trump’s calls with Giuliani about Yovanovitch, even though Mulvaney has told associates that he stayed out of those conversations to protect Trump and Giuliani’s attorney-client privilege.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says an NPR host lied in setting up an interview with him on Friday, but email records support the journalist’s account of how the contentious exchange came to be.
The emails, obtained by The Washington Post, indicate that Pompeo’s staff was aware that NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly would ask Pompeo about several topics in the interview and raised no objections, contrary to Pompeo’s characterization.