A core element of President Donald Trump’s defense against removal from office has been that the abuse-of-power charge is based on “hearsay” — that the impeachment managers failed to produce any inner-sanctum testimony proving the president held up military aid to Ukraine in a bid to extort dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden.
“Anyone who spoke with the president said that the president made clear that there was no linkage between security assistance and investigations,” deputy White House counsel Michael Purpura argued to the Senate on Monday.
Enter John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser.
What John Bolton’s book says
According to a New York Times report Sunday, Bolton has written a book manuscript that says Trump clearly stated Ukraine would not receive $391 million in taxpayer-funded military aid until officials there assisted with investigations of Democrats, including the Bidens.
The president denied this linkage. His lawyers, in presenting their defense this week, all but ignored it: “It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow argued Tuesday.
But the senators sitting in judgment of the president have an obligation to do more than close their eyes and cover their ears to new evidence.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was well on his way to engineering a “trial” that races to acquittal without so much as a single witness being called. While expedient for Trump, that would be laughable to most Americans who know what a trial should look like.
Bolton is a conservative who has had a foreign policy role in every GOP administration since President Ronald Reagan’s. He has said that he is ready to testify in response to a subpoena. If Senate Republicans reject a firsthand account from him, they will demonstrate that they are more interested in covering up Trump’s behavior than in doing impartial justice.
The House impeachment managers assembled a strong, if largely circumstantial, case that Trump abused the power of his office with his extortion demand of Ukraine. More definitively, the president obstructed congressional investigators by blocking testimony and documents.
Trump blocked aides from testifying
With Trump preventing his closest advisers from testifying during the impeachment proceedings late last year, senators have an obligation at the trial to summon people like Bolton and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others.
But McConnell and the vast majority of his caucus seemed ready to forgo witnesses, arguing that they were under no duty to go on a “fishing expedition.” Now there’s a preview of what Bolton would say, and it goes to the heart of the allegations against Trump.
Senate Republicans, who hold a 53-vote majority in the 100-member Senate, are considering their next move, and this is where the Democrats could grease the skids by laying out a deal with Republicans to allow prosecutors and defense lawyers to call relevant witnesses of their choice.
True, that might result in a subpoena for Hunter Biden, who worked for a scandal-marred Ukrainian energy company. (Did he show poor judgment? Sure. Should Trump be trying to outsource his opposition research to a foreign government? Absolutely not.) But if a compromise would allow Bolton and others to testify, it would serve the public’s interest.
This impeachment trial — only the third in U.S. history — is much more than just a proceeding before the Senate. It’s a vehicle for the American people to judge their president’s character and conduct. For that, witnesses are imperative.
Bolton’s book is slated for publication in March. To pass on the chance to thoroughly question and cross-examine him, under oath, would be a loss to history and expose these historic proceedings as a farce.
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