There’s an embarrassingly-mustachioed-specter sort of spooking the GOP-led Senate and White House. Former National Security Advisor and forever war hawk John Bolton previously made a cameo appearance in the ongoing impeachment morass via secondhand testimony. But now he’s front and center. Or at least sitting stage right.
Over the weekend, news leaked about an excerpt from Bolton’s forthcoming insider tell-all account of his time in President Donald Trump’s White House. This excerpt was said to contain a wholesale refutation of the president’s main defense—essentially tracking part and parcel with the Democratic Party’s allegations of a quid pro quo or extortion/bribery attempt viz. the provision of military aid to the Ukraine and a potential investigation into the president’s foremost political enemy, Joe Biden.
Some believe that Bolton’s role has been blown out of all proportion. Others find him an integral aspect if the impeachment inquest is destined for more than opposition-like theatrics and constitutional oversight kayfabe.
Law&Crime surveyed several legal experts for an in-depth take on Bolton and the Democrats. We received a nuanced and diverse array of opinions as to the utility of Bolton and Democratic efforts (or lack thereof) thus far to obtain his testimony.
Law and policy expert Esha Krishnaswamy took issue with both Democratic investigators and Bolton—telling Law&Crime that the putative opposition party was simply not serious about extracting his testimony.
“Sadly, Democrats, being weak and unwilling to crackdown on people ignoring subpoenas has created this messy situation,” she said. “When the first Trump advisor [Hope Hicks] refused to put in an appearance in response to a subpoena, they needed to send her to jail for contempt of Congress.”
National security attorney Bradley P. Moss was adamant that Bolton be questioned under oath about what he knew—and suggested that Democrats handed the president a political gift by declining to subpoena Bolton.
“Hindsight is 20/20 but it certainly appears the House Democrats should have at least gone through the motions to try to subpoena Bolton during their investigation, if only to counter the political messaging now being raised during the Senate trial,” Moss told Law&Crime. “That aside, given last night’s revelations about what is likely going to be outlined in the upcoming book, it appears increasingly likely that there will be additional witness testimony before the Senate trial is over, including Bolton at an absolute minimum.”
Federal criminal defense attorney Tor Ekeland took essentially the opposite tack—failing to find fault with Democrats’ quick impeachment inquiry and slamming Bolton as a self-interested publicity hound.
In a message, Ekeland said:
I think the Democrats would like to have Bolton’s testimony, but are right not to depend on it. It wasn’t worth pursuing too hard in the House because it would have slowed things down, and I think the Democrats were right to just get this impeachment done with and on the record. Because it’s obvious that the Republicans won’t find their dear leader guilty. Wasting time with Bolton is wasting time with someone who makes his decisions based on what’s going to get him maximum publicity rather than making his decisions on principle. If he was making decisions based on principle he would have stepped forward and testified honestly a long time ago.
Law&Crime Network host and New York City defense attorney Julie Rendelman also hesitated to criticize Democrats too harshly but remained optimistic about the possibility of seeing him speak about Ukraine.
“The House could have subpoenaed Bolton, but that doesn’t mean it would have resulted in him actually testifying at that time,” she noted. “The one thing that the Democrats have going for them right now is public pressure. The world is watching and if the Republicans appear to be turning a blind eye to uncovering possible wrongdoing of the president, maybe, just maybe, they will agree to hear from witnesses (i.e. Bolton) in the Senate.”
Bob Bianchi is also a Law&Crime Network host and defense attorney. In an email, Bianchi offered a cautious estimate of Democratic actions up to this point and where they might go from here on the Bolton matter.
“It is impossible to gauge [Democrats’] ‘seriousness’ but it is likely something that they would want to have,” Bianchi said of Bolton’s potential testimony. “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Ambassador Bolton not only has first hand knowledge directly from the president, but that he was so concerned that he was having staff meet with lawyers.”
“And, he also made it clear that he wanted no involvement in the withholding of aid to the Ukraine, referring to it as a ‘drug deal.’ Clearly, he would be a powerful witness for the Democrats.”
Bianchi, however, remained sober-eyed about the Senate process:
But, at this stage there are legal problems at play, not to mention a likely court challenge by the Trump administration, practically making Ambassador Bolton’s testimony impossible to get in time for the Senate hearing/trial. That said, nothing prevents them from still getting his testimony for the record after the trial is completed so that the information and “truth” of it all is at least known, unless an agreement is reached for witnesses (which would require some Republican Senators to cross over), in which case I would think Ambassador Bolton would be at the top.
“I don’t see how Democrats can [play hardball] at this juncture, especially as they don’t control the process in the Senate,” Bianchi added. “The place where Democrats could still (even after the Senate trial) do something is in the House of Representatives. Nothing precludes them from further investigation there, and I would suspect that is exactly what they will do.”
But Bolton has, of course, effortlessly outplayed House Democrats before. Krishnaswamy, however, had an easy out for impeachment investigators.
Asked whether Democrats had any leverage against Bolton to force his testimony, she said they should “bring his other crimes to light.”
“Congress can always subpoena people and investigate them,” Krishnaswamy continued. “To play hardball, House Democrats can subpoena Bolton for one of the innumerable questionable to outright criminal actions he has committed in the past. Like Iraq. Like him saying he wants to steal Venezuela’s oil.”
”Literally anything. Make him have consequences for ignoring the subpoena.”
[image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]