We watched. We waited. We wondered when/if Donald Trump’s defense team would finally mention He Who Must Not Be Named.
The Trump defense covered a lot of ground, but it seemed like they’d never try going anywhere near the former National Security Adviser and The New York Times bombshell story. This was top-of-the-list strategy. We would get Ken Starr, Rudy, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, but we would wait — and wait —for something on John Bolton, whose name was on the lips of all 100 senators and maybe as many as 100 million other Americans.
This is not a small thing. I don’t know what Bolton’s testimony would mean for Trump’s re-election hopes. But I know for sure the position every vulnerable Republican senator — yeah, we’re talking you, Cory Gardner — is in. Upon reading The Times report of the Bolton book’s draft manuscript — in which Bolton says Trump told him he would hold up the $390 million in military aide to Ukraine until President Zelensky agreed to investigate/smear the Bidens — voting against hearing witnesses would be nothing less than a cover-up. Certainly that’s what every Democrat running for Senate would argue. I mean, it’s Republicans who kept insisting that Democrats don’t have the first-person testimony needed to impeach. Here’s first person and more.
We watched instead the irony — actually we need a word beyond irony — of Ken Starr arguing that “Impeachment is hell, or at least, presidential impeachment is hell.” As CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin pointed out, Starr — the author of the soft-porn Starr Report who pressed hard for the Clinton impeachment — would be the least credible person out of 330 million Americans to make that case. It’s the same Ken Starr whom Trump called at the time of the Clinton impeachment “off his rocker.”
Starr, but no Bolton.
We watched the defense of the indefensible, meaning Rudy Giuliani. Not really a key player in all this, we were told. I mean, sure, everyone on the Trump team trying to force President Zelensky to smear the Bidens was advised to talk to Rudy — but that couldn’t mean talk to Rudy. And sure, in the infamous call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, Trump repeatedly brought up Giuliani as the president’s go-between. But not really a key player. Just a shiny object, a distraction.
Rudy, and no Bolton.
We watched the attack on Hunter Biden, to which I kept nodding my head in agreement. He should never have been on that board. It’s all true, but also largely irrelevant. Has any president ever personally intervened to ask a foreign leader to investigate an American citizen? If the Justice Department were investigating him and the FBI were to question Ukraine officials, that would be fine. This was far from fine.
Hunter, but no Bolton.
We watched the smear-filled attack on Joe Biden, who was central to ousting corrupt Ukraine prosecutor, Victor Shokin. This, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said, proved that Biden was trying to protect his son from an investigation of Burisma. The problem — and one Bondi, uh, misleads about — is that Shokin was fired for not investigating corruption against companies like Burisma. When he was fired, he was no longer investigating Burisma, and the only one besides Trump’s defense team who says he was, is Victor Shokin. Again, no one mentioned why the Justice Department wouldn’t be investigating Joe Biden if there were something to investigate. Why, instead, Rudy? Why, instead, Lev Parnas? Why, instead, Trump himself?
Joe Biden, but no Bolton.
Still, we watched and we waited. And waited. And watched. And waited some more.
Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, it was reported, has told his members to “take a deep breath” on the news of Bolton’s draft manuscript. Presumably enough of a deep breath to give McConnell time to figure a way out of this mess.
Trump himself tweeted that he never told Bolton he was holding up the aid as a way to get to the Bidens. In other words, he was calling Bolton a liar, which, the legal experts tell us, means Trump is foreclosing the executive privilege argument. Certainly, Trump knows something about lying, and there’s a long list of those in past and present Trump administrations who have been caught in lies. But whatever Bolton’s policy flaws — and, in my view, they are many — I’m not aware that he has a truth problem. And then there’s Trump. According to The Washington Post’s detailed archive, Trump made 16,241 misleading or false claims in his first 1,095 days in office.
And on it goes. Mitt Romney said he wanted to hear Bolton’s testimony and predicted that other Republicans would join him. There have been reports that Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are back in the let’s-call-witnesses camp. If true, that still mean a fourth Republican must be found who is brave enough to defy Trump and McConnell.
We heard that Pat Toomey, who was on nobody’s list of possible senators to vote for witnesses, was suggesting that Democrats and Republicans agree to a one-for-one trade — Dems get Bolton’s testimony and Republicans get someone else’s (Hunter Biden?).
And still we waited. Finally, as we got to prime time, we heard from the Trump team’s star player, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who made a professorial case that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense, an argument with which, he admitted, nearly every law school academic on constitutional issues disagrees. But there it is. It’s certainly not his worst moment. You have to go a long way to get worse than being part of O.J.’s defense team.
But Dershowitz became the first Trump lawyer to mention He Who Must Not Be Mentioned. It was quick. It was to the point. And here it is: “If any president had done what The Times reported about the content of the Bolton manuscript, that would not constitute an impeachable offense. Let me repeat: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.”
I expect many Republicans to latch onto that thought. I expect many law professors to say Dershowitz, who, as he admitted, once argued just the opposite, needs a refresher course. I expect Trump to praise Dershowitz (he probably already has). And I expect the Trump defense team hopes to never mention Bolton’s name again.