New leak about Bolton's book sharply undercuts Republican senator's excuses for Trump
Just as Senate Republicans appeared primed to shut down the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Friday without hearing any new witness testimony, the New York Times reported at noon Friday on new details from a manuscript that documents part of the conduct that triggered the proceedings.
The Times reported that former National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote in a still unpublished book under review by the administration that Trump asked him in May of 2019 to urge Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to meet with his attorney Rudy Giuliani. It explained:
More than two months before he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponents, President Trump directed John R. Bolton, then his national security adviser, to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton.
Mr. Trump gave the instruction, Mr. Bolton wrote, during an Oval Office conversation in early May that included the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, who is now leading the president’s impeachment defense.
Giuliani, however, denies that the meeting took place.
At the time, Giuliani was publicly pressuring the Ukrainians to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election. It was as a part of this effort that evidence indicates Trump would eventually withhold a White House meeting and illegally delay military aid to Ukraine, actions the House impeached the president for.
Earlier leaks about the Bolton book found that the former adviser had heard Trump explicitly say the military aid was conditioned on Ukraine conducting the politically charged investigations he wanted, which some of the president's defenders have denied. These reports sparked new waves of demands for Republicans to call Bolton to testify in the Senate trial.
But with the announcement from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Thursday that he will not support calling witnesses in the trial, it appeared the impeachment proceedings would likely soon come to a close. The new report on Friday, though, sharply undercut Alexander's excuses for Trump's conduct.
Alexander told CNN's Manu Raju Friday morning that while he thinks Trump's ask for the investigations in a July 25 phone call with Zelensky was "inappropriate," he doesn't think it rose to the level of impeachable conduct.
“Impeachable conduct is a very high bar," Alexander said. "It's treason, bribery, it's high crimes and misdemeanors."
He continued: "And to me, an error in judgment, an inappropriate and improper telephone call or action doesn't add up to treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors."
But the new report further supports, as other evidence has, the idea that Trump's Ukraine scheme was much more than a single phone call or isolated action in July or August. It was a months-long plot — with the president at the center of it — that combined the work of his personal attorney and administration officials, a clearly improper melding of public funds and Trump's private interests. The military aid wasn't released until mid-September when the plot was being exposed. And Zelensky still hasn't gotten the White House meeting he wanted with Trump, and which the administration used as leverage to pressure Ukraine to announce the investigations.
And this helps disprove the notion that Trump's conduct arose from a mere "error in judgment." Trump didn't simply make a mistake by asking Zelensky for something he was entitled to or by unintentionally violating the Impoundment Control Act to withhold the military aid. He had the considered view that it was entirely within his rights to use both his private employees and government resources to target his political rivals.
And since Trump has refused to back down and admit he did anything wrong, there's no reason to believe he'll stop behaving in this way to influence the next election. Because of Alexander's paper-thin excuses, Trump will likely conclude that he can get away with anything.