President Donald Trump lied on Monday about House Democrats’ earlier efforts to secure impeachment testimony from former National Security advisor John Bolton.
”They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House,” Trump falsely wrote on Twitter. “They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!”
The 45th president’s transparent prevarication was immediately seized upon by several observers, many of whom are used to making plain such observations about the presidential truth deficit.
“He has lost it psychologically,” Minnesota Law Professor and former Bush White House ethics attorney Richard Painter told Law&Crime. “I don’t think he’s fit to stand trial.”
“The president knows full well that getting senators to balk at calling witnesses like Bolton is all about grassroots support and political messaging,” said national security attorney Bradley P. Moss via email. “The truth of the president’s remarks (or lack thereof) is irrelevant in that context.”
Former federal prosecutor and current Westchester District Attorney candidate Mimi Rocah also dismissed the president’s lie:
Bolton didn’t testify in the House because Trump blocked it. This is total gamesmanship that even the most ardent Trump supporter must see through.
“Democrats requested Bolton testify in the House, but he warned that he would fight any subpoena in court,” noted CNN’s Manu Raju. “Democrats opted not to take the fight to court, warning doing so would lead to a protracted court fight.”
Lead House Impeachment Manager and Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also pushed back with a tidy timeline of what actually occurred viz. Bolton’s testimony.
“No, Mr. President, we did ask John Bolton to testify,” Schiff tweeted in response. “You ordered him not to, and blocked others, like [Office of Management and Budget Director] Mick Mulvaney. All Americans know what [sic] a fair trial includes documents and witnesses.What are you hiding?”
Former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal played the straight man to Trump’s Monday morning fabulist act.
“What in the world is he talking about? Trump BLOCKED Bolton and every other witness in the House,” Katyal noted. “If Trump is now [okay] with Bolton testifying in the House, I’m sure that can happen, like, tomorrow.”
Play-time over, Katyal pivoted to the upshot of Trump’s Bizarroworld attack on House Democrats:
Obstructing Congress’ investigation is actually Article 2 of the Impeachment against Trump.
Trump is unwittingly confirming that Bolton was part of the investigation that he obstructed.
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) January 20, 2020
“Such chutzpah!” noted multi-purpose Obama administration alum Eric Columbus. “Trump directed Bolton and others not to testify in the House and to ignore any subpoenas. DOJ says House can’t sue to enforce subpoenas. What exactly was the House supposed to do?”
Former prosecutor and current Law&Crime Network host Julie Rendelman saw the Bolton misrepresentation as more of the same.
“I’m not sure that Trump’s claim that the Democrats did not want Bolton to testify is any different than any of his many other misleading tweets,” Rendelman told Law&Crime via email. “It’s never clear, at least to me, whether the falsehoods are purposeful or based on a simple lack of knowledge on his part.”
The near-unanimous chorus of commentators and interested parties calling out the president’s lie as particularly egregious in this instance cannot simply be written off as the typical whinging of typical critics and anti-Trump partisans. The record here is clear: the president is not telling the truth.
House Democrats requested documents and direct testimony from Bolton in early November as part of their narrowly focused impeachment inquiry into Trump’s alleged quid pro quo over Ukrainian military aid. Bolton himself described those efforts by the 45th president and his most loyal apparatchiks as a “drug deal.”
Impeachment investigators were still salivating at the chance to call Bolton as a witness against the president and the alleged bribery/extortion scheme which held up the aforementioned aid as leverage to secure an announcement from Ukrainian officials that would have sprayed Joe Biden—and his family—with the stench of corruption.
Schiff said, at the time, that Bolton “has very important information about the president’s misconduct that the American people should hear.” And Trump’s own top Russian advisor Fiona Hill dished on several gruff remarks and misgivings Bolton had about the entire Ukraine imbroglio.
Bolton quickly shielded himself from testifying in the House’s impeachment inquiry by trotting out the excuse that there were extant and unresolved separation of powers issues–issues thoroughly discussed via the House’s now-moot legal battle with Bolton’s former aide Charles Kupperman.
Bolton’s refusal, of course, came after Trump and his legal team threatened reprisals against witnesses and advised all potential witnesses to outright ignore duly-authorized congressional subpoenas. Several witnesses ignored that bluster—but Bolton heeled when asked by the White House to do so.
Threatening a court fight, Bolton’s attorney Charles Cooper suggested that Democrats subpoena the infamous hawk if they really wanted to get him on the record.
“Bolton is not willing to appear voluntarily,” Cooper said. “I stand ready at all times to accept service of a subpoena on his behalf.”
Democrats, however, declined to fight another potentially lengthy and losing legal battle—already embroiled in several such disputes over various aspects of the impeachment process and frustrated by a stonewalling administration at every turn.
“John Bolton’s not testifying,” Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams argued last week. “It’s not happening. It is not. Happening.”
“Let’s assume that they get the 51 votes and they say, ‘We want John Bolton to testify,’” Abrams explained. “He shows up, and then there’s going to be an argument on immunity. And there’s going to be an argument on executive privilege. And the president is going to say, ‘It is my executive privilege here. It is not his decision.’ And it’s going to work its way through the courts. And they’re going to say, ‘We don’t have the time.’ And John Bolton’s not testifying.”
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
Editor’s note: this article has been amended post-publication to include additional responses from legal experts.