The Times reported this detail from Bolton’s manuscript in late January during the final days of the impeachment trial, when there remained a shred of suspense about whether Bolton would be called to testify. But it’s one thing to have a newspaper claiming that someone has said something incriminating and it’s another to hear that person actually say it.
Anyway, nothing much here except firsthand eyewitness evidence that the central thesis of the impeachment case against Trump was correct all along: Not only was there a quid pro quo with Ukraine, the president himself was in on it. There was never real doubt about that, and knowing it wouldn’t have stopped a GOP acquittal on grounds that the president’s behavior may have been bad but wasn’t impeachable. (Nothing would have stopped a GOP acquittal.) But it was noted repeatedly during the impeachment process that, for all the Democrats’ hype, no witness ever quoted Trump himself as conditioning U.S. military aid to Ukraine on dirt from Ukraine about the Bidens and the CrowdStrike server. The House’s most damning witness, Gordon Sondland, confirmed that there was a quid pro quo and that America’s foreign policy leadership all understood that, but even he didn’t quite go so far as to incriminate Trump directly. There was always a small, however absurd, possibility that Rudy Giuliani had masterminded the whole shady deal unbeknownst to our poor president.
No, said Bolton to ABC last night. Trump knew.
RADDATZ: I want to go to some specifics on Ukraine. Aug. 20 comes a key conversation you had with President Trump about the security assistance. What exactly did the president say to you?
BOLTON: Well, he directly linked the provision of that assistance with the investigation…
RADDATZ: He said in the book, he said he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until all the Russia investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over.
RADDATZ: So this was not the first time you heard the president himself directly link the investigation and the Ukraine aid? Or was it?
BOLTON: No. There were other conversations, some of which involved Rudy Giuliani, or references to Rudy Giuliani or others — where this connection was becoming clear. The conversation in August was the crispest indication of the linkage. But indirectly, and by clear implication, it had been growing for quite some time…
RADDATZ: How often did he talk about Biden and Ukraine?
BOLTON: As the months and weeks wore on, he talked about them more and more and more. And I think this was a case of him listening to outside advisors, and maybe some of his inside advisors as well, and just becoming obsessive on the point that if he could crack open what happened in Ukraine, he could discredit Biden — discredit Hillary as sort of a — icing on the cake.
And that that would be an enormous boost for his reelection. There was no doubt this was political. And what he was able to do during impeachment was convince people that somehow he only had the issue of corruption in the Ukraine in mind. And that was the least of his concerns.
Eh, no big deal. Just the smoking gun in a corruption case against the president of the United States which the star witness declined to produce at trial. Happens all the time.
Martha Raddatz went on to grill Bolton about why he didn’t bring this info to Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler during the impeachment inquiry, especially given Bolton’s claim in the book that the Ukraine matter was just one of several dubious things Trump had done while conducting foreign policy. Bolton responded with some argle-bargle about how partisan the impeachment process was, with the Democrats focused too narrowly on Ukraine and rushing through it because they wanted it over before the Democratic presidential primaries got going. That’s true, but Bolton himself was the potential key to expanding the inquiry’s scope: If he wanted the process to slow down and bring some Republicans onboard, nothing would have done that like Bolton himself testifying to the fact that, e.g., Trump reportedly reassured Erdogan that the DOJ’s probe of Halkbank would lighten up just as soon as the “Obama people” in the Southern District of New York were replaced.
When Raddatz made that point to him, that he more than anyone else in America had the power to reshape the impeachment inquiry, Bolton retreated into claiming that his testimony wouldn’t have made any difference. That’s also true — sort of. Certainly, there were never going to be 20 Senate Republicans willing to convict and remove Trump, no matter what facts were produced. But Bolton’s testimony might have swung a handful of Republican votes in the House. It might have at least gotten Lisa Murkowski to join Mitt Romney in voting for removal in the Senate. More importantly, it might have raised the political cost to congressional Republicans who voted for acquittal by convincing more voters that Trump should be removed. He would have been acquitted no matter what, but Susan Collins’s acquittal vote in a universe where Bolton testified might have been much more expensive than her acquittal vote in the universe we occupy.
I don’t know what the real reason is for him not wanting to testify before the House. Maybe, as a lifelong conservative, he just couldn’t stomach the thought of assisting a Democratic effort against a Republican president, even a Republican president whom he found contemptible. My best guess is that, although he despises Trump and is obviously willing to do him some political damage, his loyalty to the GOP made him leery of offering testimony that would put a lot of congressional Republicans in an awkward spot politically. But that theory is complicated by the fact that he’s putting them in an awkward spot now, belatedly, by spilling everything he has. Collins is going to be asked, “Knowing what you know now from Bolton’s book, would you have voted to remove the president in February?” Whatever answer she gives will be awkward. On the other hand, I also don’t know why Democrats like Jerry Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries are unwilling to call Bolton to testify now. As much as they might hate him for his politics and for refusing to testify when it might have mattered, one would think they’d be eager to trumpet Bolton’s allegations about Trump and haul him into a hearing room for an “I told you so” vindication session about the Ukraine quid pro quo. They’re being spiteful in not wanting him to testify, which is understandable in human terms but malpractice in political terms.
Axios has a pair of interesting scoops today, one of which appears to undermine Bolton’s central thesis about Trump and the other of which appears to confirm it. That thesis is that the president conducts foreign policy entirely through the lens of how it might affect his chances at reelection. All presidents bear in mind the domestic consequences of action abroad, but only as one factor in their thinking; Bolton believes that it’s the only factor in Trump’s thinking, which is how U.S. military aid to Ukraine came to depend on dirt on Joe Biden. But this would seem to undercut that:
In an Oval Office interview with Axios on Friday, President Trump suggested he’s had second thoughts about his decision to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and said he is open to meeting with dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Driving the news: Asked whether he would meet with Maduro, Trump said, “I would maybe think about that. … Maduro would like to meet. And I’m never opposed to meetings — you know, rarely opposed to meetings.
“I always say, you lose very little with meetings. But at this moment, I’ve turned them down.”
What’s surprising about that is that the many Americans of Cuban and Venezuelan descent in the hugely important state of Florida loathe the Castro-esque Maduro. If Trump were conducting foreign policy purely through the lens of reelection, he’d never say such a thing. Either his fondness for strongmen and/or for big unprecedented photo-op summits a la the two with Kim Jong Un trumped his electoral thinking with Maduro or he just, er, forgot that his Venezuela policy could make or break him in Florida. His aides must have had a word with him about it since the Axios interview was published because he tweeted this earlier today:
Unlike the radical left, I will ALWAYS stand against socialism and with the people of Venezuela. My Admin has always stood on the side of FREEDOM and LIBERTY and against the oppressive Maduro regime! I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2020
The other scoop, also from Axios, finds Trump candidly subordinating America’s opposition to China’s concentration camps for Uighurs to his own interest in a trade deal. Bolton claims in his book that Trump told Xi Jinping himself that he didn’t care about the Chinese interning Uighurs in Xinjiang; Bolton also claims that a trade deal with China was Trump’s political white whale, the thing he believed would ensure his reelection if only he could land it and thus the thing for which he’d be willing to trade nearly everything. Including this:
Asked why he hadn’t yet enacted Treasury sanctions against Chinese Communist Party officials or entities tied to the camps where the Chinese government detains Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, Trump replied, “Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal.”
“And I made a great deal, $250 billion potentially worth of purchases. And by the way, they’re buying a lot, you probably have seen.”
Trump continued: “And when you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on — we’ve done a lot. I put tariffs on China, which are far worse than any sanction you can think of.”
Here’s a bit from Bolton’s interview last night. His book’s coming out on Tuesday, despite the DOJ’s best efforts. But his profits are probably going straight into the DOJ’s checking account.
John Bolton says Pres. Trump's actions with Ukraine "could well amount" to high crimes and misdemeanors, and says "a range of other activities" should be investigated, but defends his decision not to come forward during impeachment trial. https://t.co/jiL4cpiM0x pic.twitter.com/a6Z6LjGeYb
— ABC News (@ABC) June 22, 2020