Hot Air

Romney: Its increasingly likely Senate Republicans will agree to call witnesses after the new Bolton revelation

It’s not clear from this short clip whether he’s guessing how Collins, Murkowski, and the rest will feel about last night’s news or whether he’s actually spoken to anyone about it. But a Politico reporter claims Romney said he has chatted about it with others. And Susan Collins told Yahoo News on her way into work this morning that she’s been working with Murkowski, Romney, and Lamar Alexander on the witness issue. Hmmmm. Watch, then read on:

CNN is hearing whispers too:

Senate Republicans are unhappy about the Times scoop and have made that unhappiness known to the White House. The National Security Council has been reviewing Bolton’s manuscript for classified material for nearly a month, according to Bolton’s lawyer. Did Trump and his lawyers have no inkling that it allegedly claims the president told Bolton personally that “he preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine”?

By Monday morning, several Republican senators had angrily called the White House trying to determine who at the administration knew about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which aides there have had for several weeks, and what was in it. They told the White House they felt blindsided, according to people briefed on the calls who insisted on anonymity to describe private discussions.

One reason for their ire is that Mr. Bolton’s account flies in the face of the rationale the president’s lawyers have offered the Senate for his actions, and which many Republicans have latched onto themselves as a defense of his conduct.

Why the hell would Team Trump go on insisting there was no quid pro quo if they knew that (a) Bolton’s book is going to allege that Trump himself said there was and (b) Bolton has already said publicly that he’s willing to testify if subpoenaed? Either the NSC quarantined the manuscript tightly (until yesterday’s leak, of course) and Trump’s lawyers have themselves been blindsided or Trump thought maybe Bolton and the entire book — or at least the Ukraine parts — could be bottled up somehow, presumably on grounds of executive privilege, until after the election.

Or, a third possibility: Since the Times never quotes directly from the book itself, maybe their source has misrepresented what Bolton actually said. That seems unlikely, though, after you read the statement from Bolton’s lawyer, which claims that it’s “clear” from the NYT story that the NSC’s review process has been “corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript.” That reads to me like he’s saying the Times story is true. At no point in the statement does he suggest that it’s false, not even in a “we will neither confirm nor deny the allegation” way.

There’s a way we can find out. Subpoena time!

Two interesting tweets from this morning to give you a taste of how this is playing even among Trump’s more stalwart defenders in the Senate:

At last check, that press conference is back on but without Graham’s participation. Lindsey has been adamant all month that he didn’t want to call any witnesses, believing that it’s bad for the country to let impeachment drag on (even though the general consensus on both sides is that the public isn’t paying much attention). His tweet above now sounds more resigned to the fact that they will be, and that witness reciprocity will be enforced. But that could get hairy: “If [Bolton] says stuff that implicates, say Mick [Mulvaney] or [Mike] Pompeo, then calls for them will intensify,” said one Republican to aide to Axios. I don’t think either Mulvaney or Pompeo would roll over on Trump, even under oath — their careers would be over — but it’s a momentous risk for Senate Republicans. They’ll vote “not guilty” no matter what, even if they have to retreat to the position that yes, fine, what Trump did was bad but not impeachable, but that’ll leave voters on both sides furious. What’s a Susan Collins to do?

I don’t think she has a choice now:

Byron York, normally a Trump-friendly reporter, also sounds resigned this morning. Now that the Times has dropped a bombshell about what Bolton’s prepared to say, notes York, there’s really no choice but to follow up. I’m sure Murkowski agrees. Does Alexander?

Stay tuned. A mystery in the meantime: How exactly did the contents of the manuscript leak? Bolton’s lawyer has accused someone on the NSC of doing it, with his spokesman claiming that “The ambassador has not passed the draft manuscript to anyone else. Period.” That’s not true, though, according to the Times. “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,” the paper reported last night. The NSC, meanwhile, insists that no one in the White House outside the Council itself has reviewed the Bolton manuscript, which helps explain why Trump’s lawyers might press ahead with the “no quid pro quo” defense but doesn’t quite explain how the New York Times got wind of Bolton’s Ukraine claims before the president himself did.

Although, as some on Twitter have noted, the fact that Pat Cipollone hasn’t “reviewed” the manuscript doesn’t exclude the possibility that the contents of the Ukraine chapter were made known to him informally.

You can choose your own adventure on whom to blame for the leak. If you want to blame Bolton you can call him another James Comey, a disgruntled aide laundering damaging claims about Trump to a gullible press, possibly via accomplices. (Whether you could make that analogy convincing is a separate question.) If you want to blame the NSC you can call this a “deep state” conspiracy, a reminder that people inside the administration are working against the president at the highest levels, even inside the White House itself. Or you could take the path of least resistance, insisting that it doesn’t matter who leaked it or what Bolton has to say because the House declined to try to make him testify and therefore the Senate doesn’t need to hear his allegations. That would be a hard argument to make at this point, as Romney, Collins, Graham, and York have all demonstrated this morning, but it might be the only argument left for Republicans who are hellbent on wrapping up this process without witnesses.

Something to think about as this plays out: What do Senate Republicans gain at this point by continuing to block Bolton? If they call him, there’s a fair chance that his testimony won’t be as damning as the Times story suggested it would be. If it is damning then, like York says, it’s better that it come out now rather than later. Under oath, Bolton would have to face cross-examination; plus, the eventual Republican justification for acquittal could and would be shaped to sidestep Bolton’s claims. (“Bad but not impeachable” would be the justification of last resort.) Whereas if he’s blocked from testifying, the book will come out anyway and Bolton may never face a challenging interview about it. If what he and the book have to say about Ukraine is damning for Trump then the trial will look like a cover-up in hindsight, hurting vulnerable senators like Collins. That “cover-up” perception may be held against Trump on Election Day too. House Democrats may subpoena Bolton anyway at some point and win a court fight to make him testify, possibly in the last few weeks before the presidential vote. (At least he’d face some hostile questioning in that case.) There’s no way to keep the genie in the bottle. Either now or later, it’s coming out.

Exit question: Who else might be implicated by Bolton if he testifies? Don’t overlook the following passage from last night’s story, lost amid the chatter about what Trump allegedly told Bolton. “Mr. Bolton also described other key moments in the pressure campaign, including Mr. Pompeo’s private acknowledgment to him last spring that Mr. Giuliani’s claims about Ms. Yovanovitch had no basis and that Mr. Giuliani may have wanted her removed because she might have been targeting his clients who had dealings in Ukraine as she sought to fight corruption.”

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