Since the outcome of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial has been known from the start, the most important question has been whether the Senate will call witnesses. President Trump has tried to prevent his closest advisors from testifying, but two new revelations from the past week make it clearer than ever that the Senate needs to hear new testimony.
An attorney for Lev Parnas, one of Rudy Giuliani’s associates tasked with securing political investigations in Ukraine on Trump’s behalf, released a 90-minute recording of Parnas and the president disparaging then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. In the climax of the tape, Trump tells Parnas, “Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”
This revelation comes a week after Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that Trump and Giuliani knew what he was doing, and that everything he did in Ukraine was at their direction.
Trump responded to these interviews by denying that he knew Parnas. The video proves otherwise, and suggests not only that Trump knew what Giuliani and his second-rate wannabe gangsters were doing in Ukraine, but also that he approved of and directed it, just as Parnas alleged.
But that wasn’t the worst part of the president’s week: Former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s forthcoming book leaked.
According to reports, Bolton states that Trump explained that aid to the Ukrainians was being withheld until they announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, among others.
Throughout the trial, Trump’s legal team and his supporters in the Senate have clung to the defense that no witnesses directly heard Trump tie Ukraine aid to political investigations. Now we know at least one possible witness did.
To add to the White House’s headache, Bolton has a sterling reputation among Republicans. He served in the George W. Bush administration as ambassador to the United Nations and afterward became a Fox News pundit for more than a decade. Brian Kilmeade, co-host of Trump’s favorite morning show, said that Bolton “has always been upstanding and very candid, if nothing else.”
But now another Fox News host, Lou Dobbs, has christened Bolton “a tool for the radical Dems.” Such obviously frivolous attacks reveal just how seriously Bolton could damage the president’s case, if he’s allowed to testify.
The impeachment trial demands Bolton’s testimony. It hinges on whether Trump wanted to hold Ukrainian aid hostage. We already know the aid was held up. Thanks to the transcript (which isn’t a transcript) released by the White House, we also know that Trump wanted investigations into the Bidens. Bolton is the link who can remove all doubt that Trump ordered the hold because he wanted investigations into the Bidens. If the Senate cares about knowing the truth, it needs to call Bolton.
As more evidence of Trump’s quid-pro-quo of congressionally mandated military aid for fake political investigations comes to light, the more irresponsible – and the more political costly – it would be for the Senate not to call witnesses.
Even after the Bolton news had come to light, Trump’s defense team argued during the impeachment trial that no witness had directly implicated the president.
The Senate doesn’t need to subpoena the whole White House. They don’t need everyone who has ever heard the word Ukraine. But Giuliani, Bolton, and a few others coordinated with President Trump directly. Hearing their version of events under oath would not be an effort to prolong the trial indefinitely, as some Senators appear to think, but instead an effort to arrive at the truth.
In reaction to the leak of Bolton’s manuscript, both Trump and his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, denied key sections of it. Luckily, there are ways of resolving he-said-she-said situations. Have Bolton and Mulvaney both testify. Under oath. In the Senate. That will sort everything out in short order, one way or the other. Isn’t that what all the senators claim to want?
Phil Heimlich (@philheimlich) is a former assistant prosecutor, Cincinnati City Council member and Hamilton County commissioner, and a legal adviser to Republicans for the Rule of Law.
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