John Bolton would testify in a Senate impeachment trial. Who is that good for?
Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton made a surprise statement on his website Monday, announcing his willingness to testify at the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. “I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” Bolton said. Thus far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he will refuse to allow any additional witnesses to testify. Bolton’s testimony could prove potentially dramatic, due to his up close and personal role in the events surrounding President Trump’s impeachment.
“It now falls to the Senate to fulfill its constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still-unanswered constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts,” Bolton added. He had been awaiting a court order to testify, but House Democrats opted to move forward with impeachment without pursuing the court order, which could have taken a long time to acquire and delayed their abbreviated timeline.
Although most Republicans have stood firmly behind McConnell’s refusal to allow witnesses, arguing that if Democrats wanted to gather more information they should have done so during the House investigation, a small group of moderates have indicated that they might be willing to defect. Last month, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she was “disturbed” by McConnell’s approach to impeachment, urging her colleagues to “take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense,” adding that if her approach “means that I am viewed as one who looks openly and critically at every issue in front of me rather than acting as a rubber stamp for my party or my president, I’m totally good with that.”
Bolton’s willingness to testify could raise the pressure on McConnell if Republican moderates like Murkowski demand to hear from him. Only four Republicans would need to defect to join Democrats in compelling new testimony in the Senate trial; the vote would only require a simple majority in the Senate. Bolton’s testimony could prove deeply embarrassing for the president, as he was intimately involved with carrying out the president’s wishes with regards to Ukraine in his post as national security adviser. Per The New York Times, Bolton’s attorney told a lawyer for the House that Bolton had information about “many relevant meetings and conversations” that have not been made public.
Still, though, it’s too early to chalk up Bolton’s surprise announcement as a victory for Democrats. He’s a deeply conservative hawk who has devoted his career to helping the Republican Party. If he decides to unload on Trump, that would be a radical break from the political program he has endorsed his entire adult life. Yes, his departure from the Trump administration last fall had a whiff of bitterness, but no one knows what he would divulge under oath, and Democrats hoping that this man will be their political savior has a tinge of farce.
No date has been set yet for the impeachment trial to begin, as Democrats are withholding the articles required to set things in motion as they negotiate over the terms of the trial with McConnell. But “given that Mr. Bolton’s lawyers have stated he has new relevant information to share, if any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we have requested, they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover-up,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The timing of Bolton’s unexpected announcement does raise some questions, though. Bolton, after all, has been a long and gleeful supporter of war with Iran. On Twitter, he applauded the president’s controversial decision to kill the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and again celebrated when Iran said it would no longer abide by the 2015 nuclear agreement. Is it too far-fetched to imagine a scenario where Bolton has traded the promise of exculpatory testimony on the president’s behalf for the military conflict he has long sought?
Probably. And there’s enough recklessness in Washington as it is. But it’s a testament to how crazy the times have become that such a scenario even seems within the range of possibility.