Political News

The one thing you absolutely can't say about the Bolton bombshell

Posted January 28, 2020 9:58 a.m. EST

— In the wake of The New York Times report that former national security adviser John Bolton has written in a soon-to-be-published manuscript that President Donald Trump personally instructed him to withhold aid money from Ukraine until that country announced an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden, most GOP senators were, understandably, a bit shell-shocked.

Reaction ranged from an increased willingness to hear from Bolton (Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah) to more of a wait-and-see attitude (Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) to skepticism that this will change the final dynamic (Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana).

But the most outlandish reaction came from Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. "To me, the facts of the case remain the same," Barrasso told reporters. "There is nothing new here to what the House managers have been saying."

Wait, wait, wait.

There's political spin. And then there's this.

"Nothing new????" How can Barrasso -- or, literally, anyone -- make this claim?

What the Times report makes clear is this: Bolton is claiming direct evidence -- as in, a conversation with Trump -- of a quid pro quo orchestrated by the President of the United States. Trump, according to the Bolton transcript, said that he wanted the military aid for Ukraine, which had already been approved by Congress, withheld from Ukraine until that country made an announcement that it was investigating the Bidens.

If Bolton testifies to that fact -- or even speaks publicly and confirms the basic elements of the Times report -- that is a massive development in this ongoing story. It would suggest that Trump -- and his administration -- have been lying all along about the "why" behind the money being withheld. (Trump has said repeatedly that there was never any connection between the withholding of the military aid and his desire that the Ukrainians investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.)

Trump's attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, his potential political rival, are at the center of the President's impeachment trial. Trump has repeatedly made unfounded and false claims to allege that the Bidens acted improperly in Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.

Now, you could say that even if that all is true -- that Trump did tell Bolton to withhold the aid until the Ukrainians moved on the Bidens -- it still doesn't rise to the level of impeachable conduct, particularly with an election less than a year away. In fact, that's the argument Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz made on the Senate floor Monday in defense of Trump. "Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense, that is clear from the history," Dershowitz said. "That is clear from the language of the Constitution."

What you cannot say is what Barrasso said. It's beyond laughable.

Nothing new? Nothing new except a top Trump administration official reportedly writing that he had a one-on-one conversation with Trump in which the President made clear that the hold-up in military aid for Ukraine was directly tied to the lack of an announcement of an investigation into his top Democratic political rival in 2020.

The intellectual dishonesty to say something like what Barrasso said is staggering. And whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal, a conservative or none of the above, you have to understand how incredibly corrosive this sort of sticking-your-head-in-the-sand behavior is for the strength and health of our overall democracy. You just have to.

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