Are Bolton’s accusations an impeachment game-changer?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·5 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening

An upcoming book from former national security adviser John Bolton includes an account of President Trump insisting that military aid to Ukraine be withheld until officials announced investigations into his political rivals, according to an unpublished manuscript of the book obtained by the New York Times.

The claim is the first time a senior administration official has provided first-person evidence of an explicit quid pro quo in the president’s dealings with Ukraine, an issue at the heart of the Senate impeachment trial.

Bolton served as national security adviser from April 2018 until September 2019. He reportedly spent the late stages of his tenure at odds with the president on a number of foreign policy issues, including Iran, North Korea and Ukraine.

Trump denied he ever told Bolton that withholding the aid was related to investigations. “If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book,” he tweeted.

Why there’s debate

Bolton’s account is seen by many as a critical turning point in the impeachment trial because it directly contradicts the president’s core defense that there was no quid pro quo. The revelation may also put more pressure on Republican senators to cede to Democrats’ call for witness testimony from Bolton and other administration officials — a step GOP leadership and the White House have wanted to avoid. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly indicated that he doesn’t have the votes to block additional witness testimony. Unlike witnesses who testified in the House, Bolton, some argue, will be difficult to dismiss as a liberal partisan or “Never Trumper” because of his long history in the Republican establishment.

The president’s defenders have written off Bolton as a disgruntled ex-employee who is merely trying to boost sales for his upcoming book. Others say Bolton’s claim doesn’t substantively change the facts of the case. Between the partial transcript of a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president and previous witness accounts, they argue, there was already ample information out there for people to make up their minds about whether Trump should be removed from office.

What’s next

Trump’s lawyers sought to refute Bolton’s accusations as they concluded their defense in the Senate. A final vote on whether new witnesses will be heard is expected to come at the end of this week.

Bolton’s book is set to be published on March 17.

Perspectives

Trump has proved time and again he can weather scandals others couldn’t

“In another time, in another Washington, this might be the moment that changed the trajectory of the presidency. … But this is Mr. Trump’s era and Mr. Trump’s Washington, and the old rules do not always apply.” — Peter Baker, New York Times

Bolton will be difficult for the GOP to smear

“Unlike some who testified during House impeachment hearings, Bolton is a Republican establishment figure with government service dating back to President Reagan’s administration. His hawkish views and sharp elbows in bureaucratic battles made him controversial, but he’s respected by many high-profile Republicans.” — Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times

Bolton directly undercuts Trump’s core impeachment defense

“He represents a firsthand witness. He represents direct knowledge. He represents everything the White House defense team said in their Saturday presentation on the Senate floor didn't exist.” — Phil Mattingly, CNN

Republicans have lost all excuses to oppose witnesses

“There is no longer any denying that any GOP senator who goes along with this is willfully and knowingly carrying Trump’s cover-up to completion. When it comes to hearing new witnesses and evidence, GOP senators have no arguments left. And no one is obliged to pretend there’s a shred of legitimacy to whatever excuses they do offer.” — Greg Sargent, Washington Post

The GOP’s hope for a speedy acquittal may be in jeopardy

“If there are enough votes to hear from witnesses, they’d likely be privately deposed before any testimony on the Senate floor, which would extend the length of the process significantly. The threat of a prolonged fight in the courts over privilege that would extend the trial has been hanging over the head of Republican senators who might prefer the trial end as quickly as possible.” — Christopher Wilson, Yahoo News

Everyone’s minds are already made up

“Nothing Bolton has written is likely to change anyone’s mind about the underlying facts of the Ukraine affair. The information his book is said to contain confirms everything that the president’s opponents have said all along. If it was not persuasive before, it will not change the balance of opinions now, when it is repeated by someone whose animus towards the administration goes without saying.” — Matthew Walther, the Week

A long legal fight may result if the president attempts to block Bolton’s testimony

“One key argument the president’s defenders are wielding is that calling current and former officials would create a legal quagmire over executive privilege. … Trump’s backers hope the prospect of a protracted delay and litigation that might wind its way to the Supreme Court will contribute to all or nearly all Republican senators deciding that witness testimony just isn’t worth the hassle.” — Josh Gerstein, Politico

Bolton’s claim could hurt the election chances of swing-state senators

“The report that John Bolton’s book draft implicates President Trump more closely to ordering a delay in military aid to Ukraine is hardly a surprise and won’t — and shouldn’t — change the impeachment result. It does, however, complicate the trial task for Republican senators.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

Nothing in Bolton’s accusation is new

“No matter how many times CNN refers to the new report about John Bolton as a ‘bombshell,’ it doesn’t change that everything we need to know about President Trump, Ukraine, and the delay in foreign aid, we already know and have known for a month.” — Eddie Scarry, Washington Examiner

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images