Reports: Trump, McConnell each increasingly resigned to Senate calling witnesses

It’s amazing how the GOP’s best-laid plans for the trial were upended by two short documents. One was Bolton’s statement on January 6 that he’d testify if subpoenaed by the Senate notwithstanding his prior reluctance to do so in the House. The other was the Times’s story on Sunday night alleging that Bolton’s book draft claims Trump told him personally there was an aid-for-Biden-dirt deal with Ukraine.

That’s all it took. If Bolton had kept silent about testifying, if that manuscript had remained bottled up, there’s zero question that the GOP would be on the brink of wrapping up the trial without calling any witnesses. To my mind that’s the best evidence that Bolton or his inner circle are behind the leak of the manuscript to the Times this past weekend. Clearly he wanted to testify, per his statement earlier this month, but until Sunday night it looked like Democrats might fall just short of the 51 votes they’d need to call him. Lamar Alexander was keeping his head down and Lisa Murkowski was making various disapproving noises wondering why Democrats didn’t call the witnesses they want in the House to begin with. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, the bombshell allegation from Bolton’s draft landed on page one of the NYT, all but ensuring that Murkowski and others would have to call him after all.

It’s gotta be Bolton who leaked, no? Gabriel Sherman reports that that’s the suspicion within TrumpWorld — and that McConnell realizes the chances of a trial without witnesses are evaporating.

Bolton’s revelations have made McConnell frustrated with Trump, two Republicans briefed on McConnell’s private conversations told me. “The White House knew and kept it mum,” a McConnell ally said. McConnell is said to be unhappy, and recalibrating his impeachment tactics. “He’s resigned to the fact there will be witnesses,” another prominent Republican said.

Inside Trumpworld, it is widely assumed Bolton is behind the leak, three Republican sources told me. Their suspicion is driven by the fact that Bolton left the administration in September on bad terms and has been waging a shadow war against Trump ever since. In November, NBC News reported Bolton trashed Trump during a private speech, saying Trump’s foreign policy was driven by Trump’s business interests. A source close to Bolton told me that Bolton has privately told GOP donors that Trump is “mentally unstable.” Bolton also has said he worries Trump will pull the United States out of NATO if he gets a second term. “Bolton’s been out there trying to bring down Trump. He’s the ultimate passive-aggressive,” the person close to Bolton said.

That might explain why he’s eager to insinuate himself into the trial. There’s no chance the Senate removes Trump, but if Trump’s own NSA testifies under oath that he thinks POTUS is both nutty and corrupt then a million Democratic attack ads will flow from it this fall. He doesn’t need to testify to make that point, of course: The book is coming out and he can do as many TV interviews as he wants. But nothing would lend gravity to a claim like that the way testimony during an impeachment trial would. And Bolton may want to create the perception, however weak, that he’s being compelled to speak out rather than attacking Trump willingly, never mind that he immediately took to writing a memoir after stepping down as NSA and practically begged the Senate to subpoena him per his statement a few weeks ago. One former White House official told Sherman he thought Bolton really had no choice but to try to get called as a witness if in fact he’s intent on accusing Trump of Ukraine misconduct in his book: “I mean, what an a**hole he would look like if impeachment ended and it looked like he withheld evidence.”

So yeah, he’s going to be called. Like McConnell, Trump is reportedly resigned to it too:

According to several people who spoke to him, Mr. Trump has sounded resigned to the possibility of witnesses after The New York Times reported Sunday that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript described the president directly tying the release of security aid to Ukraine to the country’s pursuit of investigations he sought into Democrats.

Still, several Trump advisers said that Republican senators seemed reassured after hearing from one of the president’s defense lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, the only member of Mr. Trump’s team to reference the manuscript’s claims during the legal team’s presentation on Monday. Even if what Mr. Bolton wrote was true, Mr. Dershowitz told the senators, it did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

It’d be funny if they used Dershowitz’s presentation last night as an excuse to shift immediately to the increasingly inevitable “bad but not impeachable” grounds for acquittal without ever calling Bolton. If Dersh is right that withholding military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens isn’t a high crime or misdemeanor, well, then there’s no need to hear any witnesses. Just stipulate that Trump is guilty of a quid pro quo, exactly as House Democrats have alleged, and issue the verdict. Not a removable offense.

I don’t think they have the stones to do it, especially since Trump is so wedded to his “PERFECT CALL!” nonsense. But the shamelessness of it would befit our era. They could turn on a dime from “there’s no evidence!” to “the overwhelming evidence is irrelevant!” and skip the intermediate step in which Bolton has to deliver his dramatic testimony. They should go for it! Bolton could shrug and say, “Hey, I tried,” and then release his book to great fanfare. Susan Collins could shrug and say, “I admitted that what Trump did was bad, didn’t I?”, and then hopefully get reelected.

Everyone would be happy. Except the president, fuming that his own party ended up agreeing with Pelosi that he misbehaved. Just not so egregiously that he had to be removed from office because of it.

Here’s Lindsey Graham this afternoon also sounding more resigned to witnesses being called, and warning Democrats that both Bidens, the whistleblower, and some DNC official who was in contact with the Ukrainians in 2016 will all be called. That’s highly unlikely, both because the Collins crew will be reluctant to call the whistleblower and because something will have to go badly wrong — mostly for the GOP — if each side is suddenly chasing as many as four witnesses apiece. (If the Dems get four, they’re going to be heavy-hitters like Bolton, Mulvaney, and Pompeo, all of whom could do Trump serious damage.) Axios reported this morning that once McConnell is convinced there are 51 Republicans who want to call witnesses, he’ll probably reach out to Schumer to try to make a deal on the number. But Schumer has no reason to deal with him. If Collins feels she has to call people like Bolton to impress swing voters back home, as a matter of her own self-preservation, then Schumer is under no pressure to make any sort of concession to her or to McConnell. If Collins refuses to call Bolton or anyone else unless the Dems agree to call Hunter Biden, etc, that’s still a “no deal” from Schumer. Democrats will simply go into attack mode and accuse Collins and other vulnerable Republicans of engaging in a cover-up by refusing to call anyone, precisely the outcome Collins fears. Where’s the leverage over Schumer to join with Republicans in calling the Bidens, then, especially knowing that Republicans can muster 51 votes to do that themselves?