How Could GOP Senators Possibly Be ‘Blindsided’ Over Bolton Testimony?

on May 29, 2018 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 29: John Bolton (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
January 27, 2020 3:09 p.m.

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s testimony is now at the center of the impeachment trial, with a slew of GOP senators suddenly expressing shock at what the longtime diplomat is set to reveal in a memoir about his time in the White House.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said that “at this stage it’s pretty fair to say that John Bolton has a relevant testimony,” while Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) added that “reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses.”

Other, unnamed GOP senators claimed to have been “blindsided” by Bolton’s testimony, and reportedly called the White House in a fury, demanding to know why they hadn’t been appraised of what the former national security advisor had to say beforehand.

But here’s the problem: we’ve known for a long, long time that Bolton was an important witness with extremely relevant testimony, thanks to the testimony of his aides and numerous documents created over the summer.

And the specific revelation that Bolton was present as Trump tied Ukraine aid to his demand makes great copy for the back-flap of an aspiring political bestseller, but it didn’t come out of the blue: House Democrats invited Bolton to testify on precisely that issue in November, and Republican senators have been commenting on his absence from the trial for weeks.

But that hasn’t stopped them from proclaiming shock.

House Democrats asked Bolton to testify on Nov. 7.

Their request came after a slew of Bolton aides testified that the mustachioed hawk had been present at various points where the hold on military aid to Ukraine was discussed.

His aides — including NSC Russia staffer Fiona Hill — had also testified that Bolton raised alarms about and even tried to stop the pressure campaign from going forward, making his testimony potentially important to the inquiry.

But Bolton’s testimony was only ever important, and never vital, precisely because so many people around him and so many documents supported the conclusion that President Trump had personally led the scheme to withhold military aid in exchange for Ukraine announcing investigations.

The July 10 White House meeting with Ukrainian officials that Bolton purportedly cut short because EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland raised the prospect of “investigations” has been known about since October, and his description of the pressure campaign as a “drug deal” long ago entered the public lexicon.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s say that senators aren’t arguing that the content of Bolton’s testimony changes the game. Let’s say, instead, that they’re referring to his willingness to testify. After all, the House elected not to pursue his testimony after he declined to appear at a voluntary deposition.

But even Bolton potentially testifying before the Senate comes as no surprise.

The former UN ambassador issued a statement on Jan. 6 saying that if issued a Senate subpoena, he would comply.

It’s not fair to imply, however, that Bolton’s book contains no new information.

The New York Times piece suggests that the book may reveal that Trump not only may have been demanding that Ukraine announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

Rather, Bolton reportedly understood Trump to mean 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.”

Now that’s a potentially shocking revelation.

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