Is former National Security Adviser John Bolton going to sell it, or give it away? (It, of course, being his bird’s-eye view of the president putting his own interest, in getting an advantage in the 2020 election, over the interests of his country.)
“Will he or won’t he?” is the drama that remains after the pause, if not the end, of House Intelligence Committee hearings into impeachment.
In a series of volleys after he wrested control of his Twitter account back from the White House, Bolton got off a tantalizing tweet Sunday in which he warned of security threats “grave and growing” and an election just around the corner about which “it was time to speak up again.” Could that be the election Trump is trying to tilt his way by holding Ukraine hostage?
You can interpret Bolton’s tweets as a cry for help, a feint to rehabilitate himself without actually delivering, or a tease to get back in the public eye. If the third, they are the taunts of the one aide who could blow the impeachment effort wide open.
If he’s talking, Congress is listening. Bolton could knock Republicans off one of their major complaints that most of the testimony so far is secondhand. Bolton can tell us first hand about walking out of a White House meeting where Trump’s quid pro quo was discussed in front of visiting Ukrainians.
While others saw nothing wrong with the actions of Rudy Giuliani and his band of three amigos, abetted by two rogues now under indictment, Bolton called Rudy a “hand grenade” running a “drug deal” he wanted nothing to do with. He told his aide, Russia expert Fiona Hill, to take the information to the desk of NSC counsel John Eisenberg, where it died, along with that of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
Bolton doesn’t cut clean. To Republicans, he’s a loyal partisan with a respectable foreign policy portfolio whose mustache Trump didn't want to hire but did. They hope he’s toying with Trump, who kicked him out the door, without actually turning on him.
To Democrats, he's an unrepentant hawk who hasn’t met a regime he wouldn't like to topple. Already in a private speech to investment bankers, Bolton reportedly criticized the president for allowing Turkish President Recep Trayyip Erdogan to turn against our Kurdish allies because of his business interests in Turkey, as Trump trumpeted a fakecease fire and a Russian flag was being raised over an abandoned base in Syria.
Bolton’s a risk Democrats will take if it means they can have their John Dean, a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. In Bolton, an assistant secretary of state under the first President George Bush and an under secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations under the second Bush, they see faint traces of an institutionalist, all but an extinct species among Trump’s aides.
With apologies to patriots Marie Yovanovitch, William Taylor, George Kent, and Hill, who returned to public service to work for Bolton, he’s more career foreign service official than last week’s putative star witness, donor and accidental Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who wasn’t rich enough to buy a sports franchise or media company to relieve his boredom but could afford $1 million for a cushy post in Europe.
The hotel man may have thought he was the one buying, but he was actually bought. With Yovanovitch smeared and pushed out by friendly fire, Sondland became Ukraine ambassador ex officio, a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Inc. However he really felt about running these metaphorical drugs for Trump, Sondland testified as if it were all a lark to convince President Volodomyr Zelensky to agree to Trump’s demands of arms for dirt. Like Trump’s July 25 phone call, his testimony was just perfect.
Bolton could be the break in the dam of stonewalling, a prospect so frightening to Trump that he boasted to Fox & Friends on Friday that the two had a “good relationship.” If Bolton comes forward, he might shame Secretary of State Mike Pompeo into following him—to acknowledge that he lied when he said he knew nothing about the July 25 call, which he was actually on, or not being “in the loop” holding Zelensky hostage.
Maybe one man doing the right thing could wake Sen. Lindsey Graham to the sycophant he’s become worshiping at the altar of Trump. He’s now turned on his old friend Biden, whom he called one of the finest public servants he’d ever known and whom he comforted when his son Beau was dying. He announced Friday an investigation into his surviving son, Hunter.
Bolton is just barely young enough to anticipate a time when the Republican Party won't be a Trump plaything, despite the pressure to keep his secrets for his forthcoming book. But he’s old enough to picture the first paragraph of his obituary saying he was either the man who let Trump get away with it—or the witness who exposed Trump for what he is. That, more than all the other pressures on him, will propel him to the chair before the Congress filled by patriots before him.