Why Bolton's book bombshell has jolted the impeachment debate

Trump's defense is based on the idea that he simply did not do what he's accused of doing. Bolton appears to have first-hand knowledge that the defense is a lie
Image: FILE PHOTO: President Trump signs a memorandum for "Women's Global Development and Prosperity\
Donald Trump listens as his national security adviser John Bolton speaks in the Oval Office, February 7, 2019. LEAH MILLIS / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

On Saturday, Donald Trump's legal defense team began its opening arguments in the presidential Senate impeachment trial, and there was one point Republicans seemed especially excited about. Mike Purpura, one of Trump's attorneys argued, "Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting, or anything else."

It was a flawed argument. But just as importantly, there is a witness who's willing to testify that Trump himself did make the connection between military aid to a vulnerable ally and investigations into the American president's domestic enemies. That witness' name is former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton.

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton. [...]

Mr. Bolton's explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump's impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates. He also sent a draft to the White House for a standard review process for some current and former administration officials who write books.

There's a lot to the New York Times' report on this, and the article is worth reading in its entirety. Of particular interest were the elements pertaining to Bolton's knowledge about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Attorney General Bill Barr, and the degree to which they were aware of the president's scheme.

But there's also a top-line takeaway that's tough to ignore: much of Trump's defense is predicated on the idea that he simply did not do what the first article of impeachment accuses the Republican of doing. The president, the argument goes, never made military aid conditional on investigations.

Bolton apparently has first-hand knowledge that Trump's defense is a lie -- and Bolton put the damaging truth in writing.

So, what happens now?

In theory, senators who are eager to learn the truth about the president's culpability would want to subpoena Bolton, hear his testimony, include his version of events in the official record, and evaluate it in weighing whether or not to convict Trump and remove him from office.

In practice, there's a very real possibility that Republican senators, prioritizing Trump's needs over the rule of law and the search for truth, will continue to resist calling Bolton to testify. This would make a mockery of the process, and turn the impeachment trial into a punch-line for a sad joke, but it may happen anyway.

As part of a weird attempt at helping Trump, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said on Friday, "There will be new evidence every day. There will be something new that comes out every day."

It now appears there's something to this assessment. The question, though, is what he and his GOP colleagues are prepared to do as "new evidence" directly relevant to the trial, "comes out every day."

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