Did John Bolton just make House Democrats an offer they can’t refuse? According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser has a story to tell and a couple more to corroborate. All they have to do is issue a subpoena for his testimony — and then let him challenge it in court first to determine whether it’s truly covered under executive privilege, as Trump claims.
Former national security adviser John Bolton is willing to defy the White House and testify in the House impeachment inquiry about his alarm at the Ukraine pressure campaign if a federal court clears the way, according to people familiar with his views.
Bolton could be a powerful witness for Democrats: Top State Department and national security officials have already testified that he was deeply concerned about efforts by Trump and his allies to push Ukraine to open investigations into the president’s political rivals while the Trump administration held up military aid to that country.
The former national security adviser, who abruptly left his post in September, is expected to confirm their statements and describe his conversations with Trump, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry.
However, Bolton, a longtime GOP foreign policy adviser, does not want to comply with the Democratic inquiry without a court ruling on the ongoing constitutional dispute between the Trump administration and Congress, the people said.
Er … no, apparently:
House Intel official says John Bolton was NOT subpoenaed today because “his counsel has informed us that unlike three other dedicated public servants who worked for him on the NSC and have complied with lawful subpoenas, Mr. Bolton would take us to court if we subpoenaed him.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 7, 2019
“Rather, the White House instruction that he not appear will add to the evidence of the President’s obstruction of Congress.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 7, 2019
What’s the rush? Well, it might be that Bolton is less enthusiastic about the idea of testifying than the Washington Post report lets on. The House Democrats’ reaction comes in part because Bolton refused to show up for the deposition to which he was invited this morning. Axios’ report on the no-show makes the refusal sound more purposeful:
Former White House national security adviser John Bolton did not appear for his closed-door deposition on Thursday, instead telling the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry that he would challenge a potential subpoena for his testimony in court.
Why it matters: A House Intelligence Committee official said that Democrats have “no interest in allowing the administration to play a rope-a-dope with us in the courts for months,” and that the White House’s decision to block Bolton from testifying will be used as further evidence of obstruction for a potential article of impeachment.
Accordingly, they also withdrew a subpoena for Bolton aide Charles Kupperman yesterday. That definitely relates to a sense of urgency to get this show to its obvious conclusion, which is a recommendation for adoption of articles of impeachment. House Democrats think that challenges to subpoenas amounts to a campaign of obstruction, which implies in their response that they believe Bolton to be part of that strategy. If that’s the case, then Bolton’s testimony would be useless to them — and cost them many weeks of waiting for that uselessness to boot.
However one thinks of Bolton’s disposition, this argument from the House Intelligence Committee majority is legally and morally bankrupt. The argument that these challenges on the basis of executive privilege amount to an obstruction of justice is fatuous beyond measure. “Obstruction” in legal terms means the use of illegitimate means to thwart legal proceedings — perjury, subornation of perjury, destruction of evidence, not asserting rights and privileges in court. Americans of all stations can petition courts to assess whether their rights are being abused; it’s the moral opposite of obstruction of justice, or of Congress for that matter too. If using the courts to settle legal disputes over a prosecutorial process amounts to obstruction, then every defense attorney in America is guilty of it.
And let’s not forget that such obstruction is entirely based on House Democrats’ political needs, not anything else. It’s not that they can’t win in court, but they don’t want to have this fight while holding their presidential and congressional primaries in the winter. The only thing these legal challenges obstruct is Democrats’ electoral calendars, not justice or Congress.
Of course, the House can pass such an article on a simple majority regardless of how absurd it is. That doesn’t make it credible or sustainable. It will be an obvious ploy to tack on a quasi-process crime onto articles of impeachment that don’t involve any statutory violation in the first place.
All that said, one has to wonder whether Trump dodged a bullet with the rejection of Bolton’s testimony. And one has to wonder whether Republicans will be anxious to summon Bolton in a Senate trial, too.