Did John Bolton spill the beans in his unreleased memoir on a quid pro quo in Ukraine-Gate? Or did someone leak a false claim in order to spike interest in Bolton’s book? Donald Trump had some midnight thoughts on the subject after both the New York Times and Washington Post reported that Bolton will claim Trump told him directly that he would withhold aid to Ukraine unless they investigated the Bidens:
I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book. With that being said, the…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020
True enough, but does it mean that John Bolton is lying — assuming, of course, that his memoirs say what the New York Times and Washington Post reported? When James Mattis got cashiered by Donald Trump, his memoirs got a lot of attention only to disappoint some readers when Mattis refused to dish on the current president. Bolton would be less likely to keep a military-style discipline over his discussions with the president, even apart from Ukraine-Gate, so his book would have sold like hot cakes in any case. In fact, in any rational world, Ukraine would hardly be the most interesting topic in a Bolton memoir of this administration, but here we are anyway. Trump’s dealings with North Korea and Iran, or even Russia directly, would be far more consequential than a hold on aid that eventually got released after a hold of a few weeks.
That remains part of Trump’s public defense, by the way:
…(Democrats said I never met) and released the military aid to Ukraine without any conditions or investigations – and far ahead of schedule. I also allowed Ukraine to purchase Javelin anti-tank missiles. My Administration has done far more than the previous Administration.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020
Another defense, at least via retweet, is a “question the timing” approach. Trump sent this tweet out to his followers not long after the above response from him directly:
This “Bolton Bombshell” from The NY Times (hardly a reliable source on @POTUS @realDonaldTrump reporting) seems to have dropped at an orchestrated opportunity. Totally manufactured. #NextRevFNC pic.twitter.com/EJmPVHI23V
— Joe Gooding 💯🇺🇸 (@joegooding) January 27, 2020
For good measure, Trump also retweeted Lou Dobb’s tweet calling Bolton a “Rejected Neocon”:
Rejected Neocon, Failing NYTimes, Deep State’s Last Desperate Act After @POTUS Attorneys Destroy Radical Dems, Schiff and Pelosi Charges: NYTimes says Bolton Book Claims @realDonaldTrump Trump tied Ukraine Aid to Biden Probe https://t.co/NcH4HKRxb8 #MAGA #AmericaFirst
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) January 27, 2020
The timing does seem unusually propitious for Democrats attempting to get enough leverage to force a few Senate Republicans to vote for subpoenas. That might still be a coincidence, as Jonathan Swan reports that Bolton followed proper procedure in submitting the book three weeks ago to the National Security Council for a review of classified material. It’s not known yet whether the leak came from the NSC or whether it came from the publisher (or, for that matter, anyone else from Bolton himself to the bookbinder). The identity of the leakers might give us an indication as to the motive and timing of this bombshell, but at this point that’s more of a secondary issue.
The primary issue is whether or not it’s true. First, did Bolton really write that he has firsthand and direct knowledge of Trump demanding a quid pro quo to dig up dirt on his political rivals for nothing more than his own electoral interests? If it’s a Gordon Sondland-esque “well, that’s what it looked like to me,” it’s not going to be terribly useful. And second, if that’s what Bolton actually wrote, is it true?
One might expect Trump’s legal team to shift its strategy if the answer to either question is yes. So far, though, NPR says it’s full speed ahead on their current strategy:
President Trump’s defense team on Monday will continue its arguments in the Senate impeachment trial. The team is expected to maintain that the president was legally justified in freezing military assistance to Ukraine and that the case against Trump presented by Democrats does not clear the bar of an impeachable offense.
The arguments come a day after a report by The New York Times that Trump directly told his former national security adviser John Bolton that he would hold up aid to Ukraine until the country launched investigations into his political rivals. …
Trump’s legal team is also expected to take aim at the president’s potential political opponent, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, making the case that Trump had good reason to want Ukrainian investigators to launch criminal probes into the activities of the Bidens in Ukraine. (While Joe Biden was vice president, Hunter Biden took a position as board member of a gas company in Ukraine.)
The defense starts its session today at 1 pm ET. If they have second thoughts about their approach in light of the Bolton memoir, we’ll see some shifting around today. And we’ll also soon see whether centrists in the Senate Republican caucus will throw in with Chuck Schumer to reopen the House Democrats’ investigation.