Lindsey Graham signs on to scheme that would let senators review Bolton manuscript in secret

Lindsey Graham signs on to scheme that would let senators review Bolton manuscript in secret
Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian/Gage Skidmore

On Monday, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma offered nervous Republicans an exit ramp from the dilemma posed by former national security adviser John Bolton. Rather than have Bolton appear as a witness in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Republicans would instead have a chance to look at the manuscript of Bolton’s upcoming book, which claims that Bolton has knowledge as a firsthand witness to Trump’s alleged actions, in secret, and then determine how to proceed.

On Tuesday, Lindsey Graham signed on to this scheme, calling for the manuscript to be made available in ”a classified setting.” Not only is this an obvious ploy to prevent Bolton from ever answering questions in front of Mitch McConnell’s personally controlled camera; it also means that Republicans, after a trial in which they have constantly accused Democrats of changing the rules to gather evidence in “secret,” are genuinely looking to change the rules … so they can examine evidence. In secret.

Bolton has already volunteered to appear before the Senate if subpoenaed, and over the weekend The New York Times revealed that Bolton’s upcoming book details a conversation in which Donald Trump explicitly connects military assistance for Ukraine to extorting an investigation by that country into Joe Biden. Keeping that information out of the Senate trial has become a growing challenge, as polls show swelling support for the testimony of Bolton and other potential witnesses.

The idea of a secret review of the manuscript offers Republicans several attractive options. First, they can emerge from the classified setting to declare that there’s no there there, no matter what’s actually contained in the text. Second, they can condemn Bolton’s text as a money grab from someone whom Fox News is now repositioning from a longtime Republican hardliner to a “deep state agent” who is part of a conspiracy featuring former FBI Director James Comey. Finally, Bolton’s manuscript can be cherry-picked for both complimentary statements about Trump and derogatory comments about Democrats.

If this scheme goes forward, expect Graham to simultaneously claim that Bolton’s manuscript is a smear against Trump and that it says bad, bad things about Nancy Pelosi/Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama. But most of all, expect Graham and other Republicans to claim that, after reviewing the manuscript, they find no reason for Bolton to answer any more questions. Especially when Trump is going to fight Bolton’s appearance.

Then Republicans can demand that Joe Biden appear. After all, they’ll say, they heard from Bolton.

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