The turmoil over the NYT’s alleged leak of a portion of John Bolton’s upcoming book has upended the impeachment process, and in the process is obscuring the serious danger of calling Mr. Bolton as a witness and the damage that will ensue, regardless of the content of his testimony.
1) Calling him (or any witness) gives legitimacy to the whole unlawful process by which the House created the impeachment articles by affirming that there is substance to these charges that requires more testimony. As the President’s legal team has skillfully argued, nothing in Trump’s actions approaches an impeachable offense, which means that more testimony can only obscure this basic truth. And giving legitimacy to the House efforts sets a dangerous precedent for future Presidencies.
2) Calling Bolton specifically gives legitimacy to the Kavanaugh precedent of introducing last-minute inflammatory accusations orchestrated with lock-step media complicity (which means that this is only deployable against Republican interests) designed to create a firestorm to stampede Senators into upending the orderly procedures that the Senate had agreed upon to carry out its Constitutional duties (trying an impeachment case here, advice and consent in the case of Kavanaugh) and to divert the evident trajectory of events into disorder that will prejudice the interests of the person under examination.
If the source of this leak results from the NSC, then calling Bolton would also legitimize an illegal action. On the other hand, if Bolton is the source of the leak, then this even more strongly supports my next points, as Bolton’s motive almost surely would be hostile towards the President.
3) Calling Bolton, who is privy to privileged executive conversations and decision-making, will permanently damage the confidentiality and frankness of such enterprises by introducing suspicion that will damage the mutual trust that underlies these conversations when opposing viewpoints are being discussed evaluated. That is, if a President needs to worry that someone who disagrees with his decision will publicly reveal the contents of conversation – especially when the context and circumstances cannot be properly conveyed – then he will be impeded from seeking the diversity of advice that he and our nation need – and impeded from thinking outside the box or exploring options that need to be at least considered – as the President will need to constantly be examining whether what he says in confidence could be later twisted out-of-context to damage him.
And this applies not only to the President, but to all who are involved in these conversations, who now must weigh whether their words may be leaked with the intent to damage them. And then there’s the matter of foreign parties in the process and their fears of leaking, which may dissuade them from participating.
Once you open Pandora’s box today, you can’t put the lid back on later.
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The above describe the danger to our nation’s institutions.
Moving to political aspects and the specifics of the Trump impeachment…
4) Given that Bolton’s testimony would be in response to new information, at best (from the President’s viewpoint), he can only reaffirm the status quo (i.e. the leak is inaccurate). Such testimony would obviously not change the vote of anybody in Trump’s favor since it introduces no new evidence favorable to Trump and thus wouldn’t change where they were headed before the leak was made public. So no upside for the President
On other hand, if Bolton chooses to give a malign interpretation to this alleged conversation for which we have no record, then this will hijack the trial proceedings because then this will become the focal point that could drag others into testifying and yielding conflicting versions and a media circus. The endpoint would simply be to provide a possible hook for wavering Republicans to find an excuse to vote against Trump – and to protect against possible Democrat defections.
But the real political danger in Bolton testifying goes beyond testifying about this conversation, that is…
5) Once you put Bolton on as a witness, the door is open for him, in response to Democratic questioning, to expand the range of his testimony beyond the impeachment charges, giving him the platform and power (if he wants to settle political scores) to reveal other confidential conversations that could sound embarrassing or be used as political weapons against Trump in the upcoming reelection campaign – especially when the public doesn’t have a context.
6) Which gets down at last to the Democrats’ motivation for Bolton testifying and prolonging the Senate trial: not that they expect to get the votes to convict, but rather they want ammunition for the upcoming election campaign. Since there is no downside for them for Bolton testifying, they are hoping that will decide to do political damage to Trump.
And again, even if Bolton doesn’t have anything negative to say about Trump, the fact that they’re able to call him as a witness will immunize them against Republican attacks on the legitimacy of their impeachment process.