When John Bolton was a student at Yale in 1969, he supported the Vietnam war but dodged the draft, joining the National Guard. He said: ‘I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war already lost.’ The former national security adviser is well known as an ideological warrior but he is not the kind of man to be on the losing side in any conflict, having no desire for glorious but pointless self-immolation. How then to interpret his willingness to testify in the trial of Donald Trump? Does he think that Trump is going down? Does he want to get revenge for being fired — by tweet, naturally — from a post he had waited his whole professional life to occupy?
It’s looking at least possible that he will be able to testify, with the votes to have a trial that actually calls witnesses balanced on a knife-edge, 50-50, according to the headcount done by the Washington Post. The charge is being led by Mitt Romney. He must be relishing the chance for some payback for the many humiliations he has suffered at President Trump’s (tiny) hands. Trump tweeted once: ‘Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous ass…who begged me to be Secretary of State (I didn’t give it to him).’
How Romney must hate him. No surprise then that Romney now says he’d ‘like to hear’ what Bolton has to say. We know that Bolton is a meticulous, even ‘voracious’ note-taker. We know from Bolton’s aide, Fiona Hill, that he called what the president and his aides were ‘cooking up’ with Ukraine a ‘drug deal’ he wanted no part of.
Some specifics of the ‘drug deal’ were revealed by the Just Security website when they got hold of emails between the White House and the Pentagon. The White House Office of Management and Budget told the Pentagon there was a ‘clear direction from POTUS to hold’ $120m in funds to support the Ukrainian military. President Trump kept this money back all through the summer of last year. But then, by an amazing coincidence, he decided to release it when three House committees announced they were investigating whether he had corruptly pressured Ukraine to find dirt on the Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his son. Trump, remember, had asked President Zelensky of Ukraine to do ‘us a favor’ by investigating Biden — and he made this request while military aid to Ukraine was being put on hold. One defense of Trump’s actions is that he never knows what’s going on in the vast federal bureaucracy and doesn’t care to find out. The former Republican speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, said that Trump ‘doesn’t understand government’. But the emails between the OMB and the Pentagon suggest that excuse doesn’t hold. There was a quid pro quo.
A few emails between officials no one has heard of are hardly enough to hang a president. Some more juicy details are needed, something to capture the imagination. Enter Robert F. Hyde, retired Marine, Trump donor, and currently Republican candidate in Connecticut’s Fifth District. Previously, Hyde had a brief moment in the spotlight after Sen. Kamala Harris abandoned her presidential campaign. He tweeted that she ‘went down, brought to her knees. Blew it…Must be a hard one to swallow. #KamalaHarris #heelsup’. This distinctive tone of voice is recognizable in messages published by the House Intelligence Committee, attributed to Hyde. It seems he had joined forces with those around Trump who want to get rid of the US ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch:
‘Wow. Can’t believe Trumo hasn’t fired this bitch. I’ll get right in that.’
‘She under heavy protection outside Kiev…’
‘The guys over asked me what I would like to do and what is in it for them…’
‘…They will let me know when she’s on the move’
‘They are willing to help if you/we would like a price.’
‘Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money… what I was told.’
What is a Republican congressional candidate doing speaking like a mafia hitman? And about an American ambassador abroad? These are all questions for the House intelligence committee and if they have any sense, they’ll subpoena Hyde as soon as possible. All the signs are that he’ll make a spectacular witness. The Hartford Courant reported that he made a $2,000 donation to Trump while owing $2,000 to his estranged wife in child support payments.
The texts from Hyde are part of a cache of material from Lev Parnas, the businessman who was working with Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to find dirt on the Bidens. I’ve written before about Guiliani’s exposure in this. One of his problems is that Parnas was taking money from a notorious Ukrainian oligarch, Dmitry Firtash, who is fighting extradition to the US. The Parnas documents include a letter from Giuliani to Zelensky asking for a meeting and describing himself as ‘private counsel’ to Trump. ‘Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as president of the United States.’ To President Trump’s detractors, this letter is utterly damning — evidence of a backchannel that would be used to make it appear that Ukraine was conducting an impartial corruption inquiry into the Bidens when in reality the outcome had been fixed all along. President Trump, of course, did not get his investigation and one possible defense open to him is that an attempted abuse of power is not an abuse of power. Regardless, it would be interesting to hear from Parnas and from Giuliani, from Hyde and from Bolton. That would be a proper trial of the president. The Senate might just give him one.