Last night, the internet was abuzz with the latest in the impeachment drama. In his yet-to-be-released book, an unpublished edition of which was leaked to the press, former National Security Advisor John Bolton alleges that President Trump attempted to freeze aid to Ukraine in August 2019 unless he received dirt on his political opponent nearly a month after his much-contested (by Republicans, at least) phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
All of this is interesting — and germane — material that could have an impact on impeachment proceedings. Beginning last night, Democratic members of the Senate have enjoyed a reinvigorated fervor, arguing that a failure to call Bolton to testify is an obstruction of justice. In The New York Times, two Georgetown law professors and one former Republican Congressman penned an op-ed arguing that Chief Justice John Roberts, who presides over the impeachment trial, has the authority to call Bolton before the chamber.
But more to the point, all of this is material that could have been divulged months ago, when Bolton’s testimony before the House Judiciary was requested — and when he refused to show up.
This recent revelation says more about John Bolton himself, actually, than it does about the president. We already know, after all, who the president is and what he is capable of. We already know — well, most of us do, anyway — that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo with the Ukrainian president in an attempt to unearth information about his political opponent. We already know that the president has a well-documented propensity to lie. We already know that his intention is not to offer transparency to the American people.
But what was a matter of debate was whether or not Bolton intended to stand up for the tenets of democracy by putting his own testimony on the record. By the time he agreed to testify, however — after first refusing to comply in the House — it was too late; the fate of impeachment already lay in the hands of the Republican-controlled Senate. In the meantime, he penned a book, for which he signed a $2 million deal. It wasn’t Bolton’s conscience that drove him to tell the truth to a wide audience. It was the cold, hard cash.
Many of us have hoped, throughout this impeachment process, for a moment of revelation, a moment in which one member of the House or Senate would regard the higher calling of democracy as more important than the power play of partisan politics. One by one, our non-heroes have failed us. This weekend’s opening skit on Saturday Night Live, in which Senator Susan Collins (played by Cecily Strong) told Senator Mitch McConnell (played by Beck Bennett), with a wink, that she intended to consider the facts of the impeachment case, made clear the national joke, which is that Republicans aren’t listening, and they never have been. Instead, they have insulted the sobriety of this trial with naps, fidget spinners, and sideways rhetoric.
John Bolton’s book puts this national mockery into stark perspective. We have blamed the president for the erosion of American values in Washington during the past four years, but the truth is that the permissiveness of the Republican Party has only accelerated this decline. Bolton’s decision to withhold relevant testimony in favor of increasing his own bank account speaks to a broader problem, the problem of the Republicans who have given Trump carte blanche to do as he pleases without consequence. Bolton is a perfect example of the moral failings of those who could have held the president accountable.
Like Senator Mitch McConnell, who agreed to comply with the White House in the impeachment proceedings, Bolton is culpable in the scandal of failing to hold power to account. Like Senator Lindsay Graham, who once argued that the testimony of witnesses was necessary for a comprehensive and fair impeachment trial, Bolton is a political beast, and not a moral one. And like the president, who opts always for self-interest over the interest of the nation, Bolton is invested in no one besides John Bolton.
He is no hero. He is no savior to democracy. And if John Bolton’s book produces any good at all — and that possibility is still only a possibility — it will be nothing more than an accident, rather than the express intent of a good and decent man.