Annuity NewsGlobal NewsLatest NewsPower News

Under pressure – John Bolton’s claims jolt Donald Trump’s impeachment trial | United States

The Senate is under growing pressure to call witnesses, which may delay the inevitable acquittal


DONALD TRUMP has seemed likely to put impeachment behind him within days. But a report on January 26th may yet interrupt his smooth progress to acquittal by the Senate. John Bolton, his former national security adviser, claims in the manuscript of a forthcoming book that Mr Trump explicitly linked the withholding of $391m in military aid to Ukraine to a promise that the Ukrainian government would investigate Joe Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for this November’s presidential election.

The allegation that Mr Trump attempted to leverage military assistance to an ally in order to damage a political rival is precisely what led to his impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives last month, on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. A two-thirds vote in the Republican-controlled Senate is needed to remove him from office. That requires 20 of the 53 Republicans to vote with the 47 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with them), which looks as probable as raising the dead. But only four need to join the Democrats for the Senate to call witnesses. Mr Bolton’s claim, first revealed by the New York Times, makes this a bit more likely. That would delay an acquittal that had seemed inked in for this week.

A lack of first-hand testimony has been a pillar of the president’s defence. “Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance,” said Michael Purpura, the White House deputy counsel, on January 25th. “Most of the Democrats’ witnesses have never spoken to the president at all, let alone about Ukraine security assistance,” he added.

That is largely because, at Mr Trump’s behest, people who may have direct knowledge, such as Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, and officials at the Office of Management and Budget, flouted subpoenas to testify before the House. Nor have Mike Pence, the vice-president, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, or the president himself given sworn testimony. Those who testified to the House relied on second-hand information on the president’s state of mind.

Mr Bolton has long said that he would testify if subpoenaed; Democrats have long been eager to hear from him. And his revelations do contain first-hand evidence. According to the Times, Mr Bolton raised the topic of stalled assistance with the president in August. With Mr Pompeo and Mark Esper, the defence secretary, he was then urging Mr Trump to release the aid. Mr Trump allegedly replied that he would not relent until the Ukrainians, among other things, released investigative material on Mr Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice-president. Mr Bolton also asserts that members of the president’s inner circle were in the room when Mr Trump made similar linkages.

As a career-long hawk, with jobs in every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan’s, Mr Bolton cannot be dismissed as a liberal deep-state conspirator. Mr Trump, in a flurry of late-night tweets, insisted instead that his ex-adviser was a liar with a book to plug. Mr Bolton does have reason to be sore about his sacking in September over policy disagreements, notably the president’s abortive plan to invite the Taliban to Camp David. Mr Trump had also just called off a military strike against Iran and was expressing openness to meeting Hassan Rouhani, the country’s president; Mr Bolton stridently opposed that too. (As it happened, only a few months later Mr Trump ordered the killing of Qassem Suleimani, a leading Iranian general.)

The question now is whether the revelations will prod enough Republicans into voting to call witnesses. Mitt Romney of Utah, a critic of Mr Trump, told reporters that this is now “increasingly likely”. Susan Collins, from left-leaning Maine, indicated that she would probably vote in favour. If the Senate does vote yes, the White House would surely ask the courts to stop Mr Bolton testifying, on the grounds that it would jeopardise national security. (It has had a copy of his manuscript since December 30th to review for classified material.) Defenders of the president, such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, suggest that they would retaliate by calling witnesses of their own, presumably including the Bidens. Their testimony would not be germane to the matter at hand, but Mr Trump’s allies would like a chance to harm Joe Biden politically.

None of this is likely to change the eventual verdict. But it would delay it by weeks. Whom that would help or harm is hard to tell. Despite his impeachment, Mr Trump’s approval ratings have barely budged. But debate over his alleged misdeeds would stay in the news. As for the Democrats vying to unhorse him in November, those with Senate seats—notably, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—would have to spend more time in Washington and less on the trail. Mr Biden is unencumbered by senatorial duties; but being assailed by the president’s lawyers, however unfairly, would scarcely suit him.

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project