What a handy time for a leak.
There stood the Trump defense team, ready to lay out the rationale for why investigating Ukrainian corruption was a thoroughly fitting pretext for sending aid money—not despite the prospect of Biden family involvement, but in fact because of it. By what logic is an American president supposed to turn a blind eye to misdeeds because a political rival may lie at the root?
The defenders laid out their case dutifully Monday, from Ken Starr’s historical walk through impeachments past to Pam Bondi’s enumeration of Hunter Biden’s curious connections to the previous examples of unimpeached “abuse of power” cited by Alan Dershowitz. After Saturday’s preview, it looked like the kind of day that the media culture would not enjoy nearly as much as last week’s House managers' marathon.
And yet, a rescue was at hand: a story enabling networks to ignore the content of the Trump defense, focusing instead on the latest contrived bombshell, this time a leak of a snippet of the upcoming John Bolton book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” It apparently contains the author’s recollection of a conversation with the president over what Ukraine would need to do to prove worthy of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. The White House has said it sought evidence of a Ukraine reformed from past misbehaviors; Trump critics have said the driving motivation was to plumb the extent of Biden involvement.
Why are these mutually exclusive? In their zeal for witnesses in the Senate trial, Democrats dream of Bolton testimony that finally proves them right in their assertion that Trump was driven to damage a rival and not by a broad concern over Ukrainian misconduct. This simply will not happen. Bolton wants to sell books in the short term and enjoy a long-term reputation as a conservative power broker through his BoltonPAC, goals he knows will elude him if Trump and his base view him as a traitor.
His White House exit in September was not on the best of terms. He is an old-line hawk whose no-nonsense clarity on global evils appealed to Trump at the outset. But Bolton is willing to engage the U.S. military in ways Trump will never favor, which set the stage for a frosty breakup that was probably inevitable.
But Bolton is no James Comey, seeking to monetize his departure with a newfound hobby as a Trump tormentor. The Bolton book will not be a knife in Trump’s ribs any more than his testimony would be. The story of his National Security Advisor days will surely contain firsthand knowledge of Trump’s attitudes toward Ukraine, including any accompanying curiosity over why in the world Hunter Biden was getting rich there.
Hefty disappointment awaits anyone thinking those cannot be reconciled. If Trump sniffs out Ukrainian villainy and stumbles across evidence of an attempt to curry favor with the Obama administration with payoffs to the vice president’s son, that seems like a win-win. Not because it helps Trump in 2020, but because it was always worthwhile to weigh Ukraine’s progress out of its self-created swamp of corruption. And it will always be worthwhile to investigate the involvement of American citizens in that corruption, even if it damages an important political family. One might say it is of heightened importance if the web of intrigue snares our political leaders. Does anyone doubt that the planet would spin out of its orbit if the media caught wind of a Trump son or daughter cashing massive checks from dark corners of a corrupt country?
The contrived urgency of the Bolton book mirage is just the latest chess move in the attempt to prolong the impeachment drama with a parade of witnesses. To the surprise of no one, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney has sprouted an even greater interest in witnesses, and now suggests he may have company in the form of GOP colleagues similarly inclined. Susan Collins says the Bolton book story gives her added interest in witnesses; if she actually votes for them, that will leave two other Senators needed to reach 51, the majority necessary to invite a month of witness gamesmanship.
Romney won’t be up for re-election until the end of the next presidential term. He is betting that even if that is the second term of Trump, Utah’s Republican voters will have forgiven this mischief. Lisa Murkowski will face voters in 2022, Maine’s Susan Collins is campaigning right now for November. Some attention will surely be paid to the public mood following the Trump defense; will Mainers and Alaskans have a taste for additional weeks of impeachment? How about Tennesseans, where Lamar Alexander is not running for re-election at all?
The coming days will determine what these key Senators decide. Rest assured that the media will make every effort to fill their heads with the notion that the Republic is in peril if we don’t get Bolton testimony. This would be the same Bolton roundly despised by the same journalists when he was in Trump’s good graces.
Meanwhile, the Trump legal team wraps up its defense with arguments that may or may not rise above the noise.