|October 15, 2019|
The revenge of John Bolton?
|Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill testified Monday that John Bolton likened Rudolph W. Giuliani to a "hand grenade." Giuliani responded overnight by likening Bolton to an "atomic bomb."|
Giuliani may be right --- just perhaps not in the way he intended.
As evidence builds in House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, signs keep pointing to Bolton, who has not yet been scheduled to testify. But in Bolton, House Democrats have a potential witness with a trifecta of utility: (1) Proximity to the alleged scandal, (2) motivation to tell his story and, perhaps as important as anything, (3) a true-believer mentality.
Hill testified Monday that Bolton was "furious" over Trump aides' Ukraine maneuvering, and she indicated that he was one of the people involved in national security officials lodging their concerns with a White House lawyer.
Bolton and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland met in early July with then-special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, Hill and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
During the meeting, Sondland's agenda for Ukraine began to become clear, when he blurted out to the other officials present that there were "investigations that were dropped that need to be started up again," according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter. The officials understood him to be referring to Burisma, the energy company, and Biden --- something that made Bolton go "ballistic" after the meeting, the official said.
Hill told lawmakers that after the meeting, Bolton instructed her to go raise their concerns about the shadow Ukraine operations with White House lawyers. Bolton said he didn't want to be part of any "drug deal" that was being cooked up on Ukraine, one person familiar with Hill's testimony said.
To this point, we've known that Bolton wasn't happy about his acrimonious White House exit, given his public back-and-forth with Trump over it. What we didn't know was how much his disenchantment might have extended to the Ukraine story. There are plenty of indications, after all, that Bolton was frozen out of White House processes toward the end of his tenure, as his rift with Trump grew. And reporting indicates that the Ukraine policy often went around the National Security Council, which Bolton led and Hill served on.
But Hill paints a picture of a Bolton who was in the room for at least some key Ukraine events, which would matter in any testimony he would offer.
Bolton's motivation is also important here. In addition to his dissatisfaction with the circumstances of his departure, he has already spoken out against some of the policies of the administration he left behind --- more gently in public and in a more unvarnished manner privately.
Trump supporters' will cast him as a disgruntled former aide if he testifies against the White House, but it's also true that aides with more loyalty might bend their version of events in a more favorable light. Bolton appears to have no great motivation to do that, based on how he views this episode and how he exited the White House. And whatever he says, if he testifies, will be under oath.
And last is a related point. Not only is Bolton a potentially motivated witness with little loyalty to Trump, he actually has something pulling him in the opposite direction: An almost-religious view of foreign policy. Bolton has often been criticized as strident and overly militaristic, but regardless of the substance of his foreign policy, the point here is that he has strong beliefs that appear to outrank other concerns.
That's important, especially in this moment, because Trump's foreign policy has veered significantly away from Bolton's vision --- most recently with his decision to withdraw from northern Syria, which is a decision many hawkish Republicans speak about in dire terms. They speak of Trump having left the United States' Kurdish allies for "slaughter" at the hands of Turkey, as well as a possible resurgence of the Islamic State. And if those Republicans are speaking out against Trump like never before, just imagine what Bolton must be thinking right now.
One of the great ironies here is that Bolton is perhaps the last person you would expect to be a key witness for Democrats in their impeachment inquiry, given that they have derided him for so long. And the thing that could give him extra motivation to speak out is a shift away from Republican Party orthodoxy on foreign policy.
Much remains to play out, and Bolton still has not even been called to give a deposition. But Giuliani seems genuinely concerned that Bolton viewed his and the Trump team's Ukraine actions in such a light. And the table seems to be set for Bolton to figure prominently in whatever comes next.