January 26, 2020

Some days, it’s hard to write these letters because there are so many stories out there it’s difficult to wrestle them into a clear narrative. Last night was like that—you’ll note I posted at 4:00 am. And some days are easy because it all falls into place. Today is one of those days.

It started with Trump attacking House Impeachment manager Adam Schiff on Twitter, saying that “Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!” Interviewed on NBC News’s Meet the Press, Schiff responded that he thought Trump’s words were intended to be a threat. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Schiff’s interpretation was “ridiculous” although she admitted she hadn’t talked to Trump about the tweet.

But the spat showed that Trump is angry and anxious, lashing out, while GOP leaders continued to cover for him. You will recall that GOP Senators expressed outrage the other day over Schiff quoting an official close to that White House who said that key senators had been warned “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.” Despite their outrage over that quotation, they did not object to this language from the president against a leading Democrat.

Not a good dynamic.

Trump’s anger might have been prompted by a new Fox News poll (and btw, this is a reputable polling team, despite the name) that says 50% of Americans think the Senate should vote to convict and remove President Trump from office.

But that story paled alongside the bombshell that dropped tonight. The New York Times dropped the story that John Bolton’s forthcoming book will say that Trump told Bolton, at the time Trump's National Security advisor, that he wanted to continue to hold up military assistance to Ukraine until officials there announced investigations into the Bidens.

This is the direct evidence of a deliberate exchange of aid for investigations, concocted by Trump himself, that GOP senators have said did not exist.

Bolton’s book allegedly also says that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knew that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s claims about U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch were unfounded and that Giuliani wanted her out because she was making life difficult for his clients as she fought corruption.

But it’s worse than that. Bolton’s lawyer also released his letter to the White House concerning the manuscript. Bolton’s lawyer transmitted the manuscript to the White House on December 30 for review to make sure it did not reveal any classified information (this is standard procedure) and emphasized that they expected the manuscript would only go through normal channels, and not be shared with anyone who would not normally see a manuscript being vetted for classified information. But it is impossible to believe that Trump and his people did not see the manuscript and what it contained.

So it appears that, when the president’s lawyers have argued to the Senate there is no evidence of a quid pro quo and the House's whole case was second-hand, they knew full well that a primary witness was available—no, eager—to prove first-hand evidence. This is the testimony the White House has been blocking. So they have been lying to the Senate. At the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin wonders if senators will be offended that the president's lawyers lied to their faces.

But who else was involved? Bolton’s lawyer gave the White House thirty working days to respond. That time period would’ve ended on February 13, meaning the White House could squelch the manuscript that long. Is this why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been so eager to get the trial over quickly? To get a vote before Bolton’s story became public? Clearly, if the material in the book exonerated Trump, the White House would’ve cleared it quickly rather than sitting on it for so long.

In the letter from Bolton’s lawyer, there’s an Interesting reference to a nondisclosure agreement, which says something about the conflict at hand between Trump and the American people. Apparently Trump made senior officials sign a nondisclosure agreement before working in the White House. These agreements forbade them from disclosing any confidential information about their work not only while in office but after they left the White House. The one that Ruth Marcus, of the Washington Post, saw last year imposed a penalty of $10 million for every violation (this was likely reduced in final versions). But legal experts say these are unenforceable because White House officials don’t work for Trump; they work for us.

And therein lies a fascinating question. Who leaked the details of the manuscript to the New York Times? Bolton’s people insist the leak came from the White House; but Bolton stands to gain more from the leak than anyone else. The leak released the information the nation needs right now (so gets him media time) and it undercuts the growing anger that he was trying to save the material in his book to sell copies of it when it comes out in March (and the link to it went live on Amazon tonight).

Regardless of who leaked the information, though, the timing literally couldn’t be worse for Trump’s defense team. New York lawyer Jim McCarrick, whom I follow on Twitter, pointed out that it came out just after the defense has committed to their theory that Trump did nothing wrong and there was no quid pro quo, but before they finish their case. So it demolished their argument just after they locked into it. A litigator’s nightmare.

And here is a final note that I hesitate to write because it’s just so awful. The White House learned about the contents of John Bolton’s book on December 30. Bolton is a hawk for war with Iran. On January 3, 2020, the United States attacked and killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, nearly sparking a war with Iran. Horrific to think that there might be a connection.

Immediately the House impeachment managers noted that Bolton’s new information meant the Senate simply must call him as a witness, and tonight, at least, GOP senators were wavering on admitting witnesses. (Remember, McConnell’s resolution means that even if they subpoena witnesses, those witnesses will be deposed in private and their testimony might never be public. Many people thought this provision was designed precisely to silence Bolton.) We’ll see.

Even the Fox News Channel felt obliged to note this bombshell news, although host Steve Hilton assured viewers he had “read the full report”—I have no clue to what he is referring—and that it did not change anything of substance, but “you can be sure that the impeachment fanatics on establishment state TV will be obsessed with this tomorrow.”

The administration is clearly under stress and doubling down on gaslighting. Yesterday, Pompeo claimed that NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to him twice and lambasted her and the media for their bad faith; today emails show that she did not lie, that Pompeo’s press aide knew that she would ask him the questions he did. So he, not she, was lying. Shortly after the emails came out, Trump retweeted a tweet from a right-wing commentator asking why NPR even exists.

But the implications of the destruction of our government might well soon become terrifyingly clear. I actually wrote about the new coronavirus the day it was announced because it hit a number of issues that, as a historian, I thought were important. But I deleted the paragraph, afraid that readers who are already on edge would become unnecessarily worried (I did leave it in the notes for that day as a record for future scholars). For the purposes of this political record, though, we should note that the GOP project of dismantling the government means that we have not had anyone in charge of leading the U.S. response to a pandemic since May 2018, when Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council was pushed out during a shake up by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, who broke up the team designed to focus on global health security.

Strap in, folks. All signs suggest this is going to be quite a week.

——

Notes:

McCarrick:

Rubin:

FNC clip:

Pandemic response: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/top-white-house-official-in-charge-of-pandemic-response-exits-abruptly/

Nondisclosure agreements: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-otc-nda/trump-ndas-cant-silence-ex-white-house-officials-legal-experts-idUSKBN1GV2UT

Trump tweet about Schiff: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/schiff-has-not-paid-the-price-for-impeachment-trump-says-in-what-appears-to-be-veiled-threat/2020/01/26/539e26ee-404a-11ea-b503-2b077c436617_story.html

Pike story: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/democrat-schiffs-head-pike-comment-draws-outrage-gop/story?id=68527054

Fox news poll:

Witnesses:

Bolton’s book: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/us/politics/trump-bolton-book-ukraine.html

Pompeo: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/emails-support-npr-host-after-pompeo-calls-her-a-liar-in-setting-up-contentious-interview/2020/01/26/d793cf0e-4071-11ea-b503-2b077c436617_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0hFX_lKESAxDBwMbLsOIYtxQm-q86P5oD8eN1OH2voqWMOdNOt5Dh70RU&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook