Last year, in columns and testimony, I chastised the Democrats for the shortest investigation on the narrowest grounds with the thinnest record of any presidential impeachment in history. The insistence of impeaching by Christmas doomed any chances of a compelling impeachment case. It appears now that one person agrees with that assessment: former National Security Adviser John Bolton. I referenced Bolton and his upcoming book as one of the reason why a little more time could vastly improve and expand the House case. Bolton said that he simply wanted a court to refer the privilege claim, which could have been accomplished easily in the time wasted by the House (including the long delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate). In response, the Democratic leadership is lashing out at Bolton for refusing to come forward despite his offer to do so after a federal judge heard the privilege claim.
Bolton insists that the House Democratic leadership “committed impeachment malpractice” by centering its case too “narrowly on Ukraine when Trump’s Ukraine-like transgressions existed across the full range of his foreign policy.”
The excerpts from the book, if true, would more demonstrate a bad president than an impeachable president. Favors offered to other countries and reckless promises are unlikely to amount to high crimes and misdemeanors. However, Bolton alleges a pattern of obstruction which could, with more evidence, yield serious allegations. He states “Had the House not focused solely on the Ukraine aspects of Trump’s confusion of his personal interests there might have been a greater chance to persuade others that ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ had been perpetrated.”
The point is that, before the House impeachment hearing, Bolton indicated that he would testify if the matter of his testimony were taken before a federal court. He did not say he would wait for appeals. He wanted legal cover. As I stated in my testimony, even a trial ruling against the Administration would strengthen the claims against the President and possibly prompt Bolton to testify (as did other Administration officials).
Not only has the House been curiously passive in seeking to force such testimony; it actually withdrew one of the few subpoenas facing a court ruling in the case of Charles Kupperman, Trump’s former deputy national security advisor. Kupperman was willing to testify and simply wanted court review, but the House strangely withdrew its request that he testify.
The failure to pursue such witnesses by the House was used predictably by the White House in the Senate trial.
The fact is that the House could have waited and could have built a stronger case. I opposed the position of my fellow witnesses that the definition of actual crimes is immaterial to their use as the basis for impeachment — and I specifically opposed impeachment articles based on bribery, extortion, campaign finance violations or obstruction of justice. The committee ultimately rejected those articles and adopted the only two articles I felt could be legitimately advanced: abuse of power, obstruction of Congress. Chairman Jerrold Nadler even ended the hearing by quoting my position on abuse of power. Our only disagreement was that I opposed impeachment on this record as incomplete and insufficient for submission to the Senate.
Pelosi and Schiff made a mockery out of their defense for the rushed impeachment when they stopped and let weeks go by before sending the articles to the Senate. I previously discussed the conflicted position of the House. From the outset, the ploy of Pelosi withholding the House impeachment articles was as implausible as it was hypocritical. There was no reason why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would make concessions to get an impeachment that he loathed. More importantly, just a couple of days earlier, House leaders insisted that some of us were wrong to encourage them to wait on an impeachment vote to create a more complete record. Pelosi previously insisted that House committees could not pursue direct witnesses like Bolton because there was no time to delay in getting this impeachment to the Senate. She then waited a month and counting to send the articles over to the Senate.
Now, in response to Bolton, House leadership is blaming him not their disastrous strategy. Chairman Adam Schiff insisted that Bolton “may be an author, but he’s no patriot.” Perhaps, but Bolton could say the impeachment showed Schiff was a politician but no tactician.
Schiff said that Bolton should have testified like his staff and added “When Bolton was asked, he refused, and said he’d sue if subpoenaed. Instead, he saved it for a book.” The point however is the Schiff did not try to litigate in court and the House withdrew a related case shortly before the court could rule. It then rushed the impeachment only to stop on a dime and wait for weeks of delay in transmitting the articles of impeachment.
One can disagree whether the allegations in the Bolton book amount to impeachable offenses, but they are certainly the type of allegations that the Democrats relied upon for impeachment. Of course, this is one form of malpractice that is impossible to litigate. Some forms of gross negligence are virtually without penalty. Those who wanted the impeachment are often unwilling to even consider whether they were played for chumps in this rushed effort. Neither the media nor the Democratic base is willing to objectively look at the failure to pursue a broader and more substantive case against Trump. For Trump to be illegitimate, the impeachment must be immaculate.