That noise you heard last night was a collective gulp from the Senate Republican caucus. The New York Times spoke to “multiple people” with access to the review manuscript from John Bolton’s unpublished memoirs, and … suffice it to say that the situation around witness subpoenas looks a little more complicated. The memoir apparently states that Donald Trump did indeed plan to use the Ukraine aid as leverage for investigations into the Bidens, or at least that’s how the NYT’s sources describe it:
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to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.
The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was in office.
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.
Multiple people described Mr. Bolton’s account of the Ukraine affair.
Two more people with access to the book offered the same description of it to the Washington Post. And while Bolton’s reps sounded very annoyed about the leak, they are pointedly not contradicting the reporting around it. Instead, they sound concerned that the White House will think that Bolton leaked it deliberately:
Charles Cooper, a lawyer for Bolton, said he submitted the manuscript to the National Security Council’s records management division on Dec. 30 for a standard review process to examine potentially classified information. Cooper said they believed that the book manuscript did not include any classified material and that its contents would not be shared with officials outside that review process.
“It is clear, regrettably, from The New York Times article published today that the prepublication review process has been corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript,” Cooper said in the statement.
Sarah Tinsley, a spokeswoman for Bolton, added: “The ambassador has not passed the draft manuscript to anyone else. Period.”
Hoo boy. Democrats from Chuck Schumer on down began immediately demanding that Republicans authorize a subpoena for Bolton, especially since yesterday’s opening argument from Trump’s defense team specifically denied that any quid pro quo existed at all. The day before this NYT scoop, Mitt Romney had come close to committing to a yes vote on a resolution for witnesses:
Sen. Mitt Romney has indicated he will probably support the push from Democrats to call additional witnesses to testify in President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.
“I think it’s very likely I’ll be in favor of witnesses, but I haven’t made a decision finally yet, and I won’t until the testimony is completed,” Romney told reporters Saturday.
What do you think that answer will be today? How about from Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski? Schumer needs four Republicans to flip, but after this story, it suddenly doesn’t seem too far out of reach.The retiring Lamar Alexander is looming, and this contradiction from Trump’s legal position might be enough to push him into a yes vote, too.
Of course, there are a couple of potential mitigating factors here. First, the actual testimony from the book might not be as cut-and-dried as the NYT and WaPo sources indicate. We’ve been here with Gordon Sondland before too, only to find out that it was just his speculation about a quid pro quo after all. Second, even if Bolton’s book does say this, he has his own bias after getting unceremoniously dumped by Trump last September over talks with the Taliban. Bolton potentially has motive to make trouble, but in fairness, no one’s ever accused Bolton of lying about something to get even.
To add a third, even the quid pro quo itself isn’t actually a crime, even if it is a rather smelly attempt to leverage aid for one’s own political benefit in an election. The problem with this last point as mitigation is that Trump and his team have flat-out denied a quid pro quo at all. That makes it tough to turn around and say that it doesn’t matter at all, and even tougher for Senate Republican moderates to agree with that modified limited hangout now.
Donald Trump kept up his denials, which we’ll get to in a later post. That would seem to signal that his defense won’t change when the trial starts today.
Update: Is the leak coming from within the NSC?
NSC spox John Ullyot: “Ambassador Bolton’s manuscript was submitted to the NSC for pre-publication review and has been under initial review by the NSC. No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript.”
– @joejohnscnn & @JDiamond1
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 27, 2020
Ehhh … could be, but it could just as easily have been someone at the publisher, or even Bolton or his team. The White House would certainly not have chosen to leak this anyway.