This week, we learned that former national security advisor John Bolton plans to publish a memoir in which he will allege that President Trump did indeed condition military aid to Ukraine on an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma. Why does this matter? It shouldn’t, after all.
We’ve known for months that Trump was seeking a quid pro quo during his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky; we’ve also known that (a) quid pro quos are not inherently impeachable offenses (but rather as fundamental to foreign relations as wheeling and dealing is to passing legislation in Congress), (b) nothing of consequence resulted from the exchange (Ukraine received its aid and Zelensky received his high-profile meeting with Trump without having to launch an investigation) and (c) there is no evidence that Trump intended to benefit himself politically in corrupt fashion (it is, after all, in the national interest to investigate a possible conflict of interest involving former Vice President Joe Biden).
The reason that Bolton’s potential testimony has any relevance presently is because the Trump team has chosen to pursue the president’s weakest defense: namely, that there was no quid pro quo and Trump’s conduct was the epitome of divine perfection. Instead of maintaining that there was a quid pro quo (and you may disagree with it) but it was not an impeachable offense, the president and his team have followed the Democrats down a rabbit hole, chasing total vindication instead of a sustainable defense.
Trump has never encountered an accusation of any nature which he was not willing to deny indefinitely. That pathological refusal to concede an inch, in certain situations, has been a massive strength; in this instance, it is the reason that Republicans have landed in a precarious position, one which was entirely avoidable.
If the Trump team had simply embraced quid pro quo from the outset, then there would be no need to admit Bolton’s testimony as it would only serve to offer information which we already knew and is not disputed. Republicans are correct to suggest that it was the responsibility of House Democrats to hear testimony from all relevant witnesses before proceeding to a vote on impeachment and that they were foolish to allow the political calendar to dictate the thoroughness of their investigation. But while Senate Republicans do not have to admit new testimony, they cannot continue to maintain that Bolton’s testimony would be irrelevant while simultaneously denying his potential allegation.
The goal of Trump’s defense should never have been total vindication, given that it wasn’t necessary for acquittal. Rather, it should have been to convince the nation that the president did not commit an impeachable offense, that House Democrats were wrong to impeach him and to produce an acquittal as efficiently as possible in order to protect Trump from bogus attacks against his credibility in the lead-up to the election. Now, one of two things is about to happen. Either enough Senate Republicans will vote with Democrats to admit Bolton’s testimony (which will open the door for a wave of new testimony, leaving no definitive path out of the trial), or Republicans will deny new testimony, at which point Adam Schiff and his congressional and media cronies will claim more forcefully than ever that the Senate is covering for the president.
In truth, John Bolton potentially testifying that Trump pressured Ukraine to open an investigation is inconsequential, even though Trump’s team is unnecessarily denying it. It would not prove that Trump had corrupt intent, nor would it reveal any misconduct which rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
Denying the existence of a quid pro quo was a fool’s errand, as was forgoing the strongest defense of the president in favor of a weaker one which protects his ego and supports the illusion that Trump’s conduct was “perfect.”
The Democrats have not proved their case; this trial should have ultimately concluded in short order. But now Senate Republicans have a tough decision to make, and Trump faces a tougher outlook by way of public opinion. The longer this trial progresses, the more opportunity for Democrats to damage Trump politically before the election, which is all they really want in the end anyway.
Kevin Catapano is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.