President Trump’s lawyers built their defense against impeachment on the absence of one small, very specific form of evidence — testimony by a witness who was told about the quid pro quo directly by Trump — that John Bolton reportedly has. Plan A to contain this damage is to prevent it from being admitted. Trump’s Senate allies are feverishly working to vote to prevent Bolton from testifying. His lawyers yesterday dismissed Bolton’s claims as “allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all,” which of course will only remain true as long as Republicans succeed in preventing Bolton’s testimony.
But, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell currently short of the requisite 50 votes to block new evidence, the cover-up is teetering. So now Trump is proceeding to Plan B: discredit Bolton. In a pair of morning tweets, he attacked his former adviser as an embittered loser, whom Trump had kindly taken in and offered a job when nobody else would hire him, and who has ungratefully turned on his generous boss when he predictably failed:
This is a familiar Trump template for dismissing former supporters. Omarosa “begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. People in the White House hated her. She was vicious, but not smart.” Steve Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.” Michael Cohen begged him for a job (and committed a series of crimes unrelated to Trump).
In Trump’s mind, this attack humiliates and utterly discredits any insider who reports his misconduct. (Anybody who didn’t work for him who reports misconduct can be dismissed as an outsider who wouldn’t know.) And to be sure, the narrative of Trump as a kindly, excessively trusting boss who disregards advice of others and gives down-and-out supplicants a chance sort of works when it comes to low-level jobs. National security adviser seems like a bad place to stash a charity case who needs a paycheck. “Trump gave his most important foreign-policy job to an unemployable lunatic who created a series of foreign-policy setbacks across the globe and nearly started numerous wars” would be a nasty attack ad. But it’s Trump’s own explanation!
Tellingly, Trump only resorted to the nuclear-attack strategy after weeks of gentle treatment. “John is somebody that I actually got along with very well. He made some very big mistakes,” he said in September. “I hope we left on good stead, but maybe we haven’t.” Trump seemed to be calculating that he might have to turn on Bolton as an embittered loser, but might be able to keep him in line.
Until today, MAGA world has reflected this split. Bolton’s allies have refused to believe he would rat out the boss. Hugh Hewitt told listeners he “laughed” at the prospect Bolton would testify against Trump. “We’ve known Mr. Bolton long enough to doubt that he’d want to sandbag Republican Senators or the President he worked for,” insisted The Wall Street Journal editorial page yesterday. It was sad, almost poignant, like the Sopranos crew having to come to grips with the reality that Big Pussy made a deal with the Feds.
On the other side, Trump acolytes who disagreed with Bolton’s ultrahawkish worldview, like Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs, seized on his disloyalty as proof that Bolton was a leftist all along whom Trump was foolish to trust. Dobbs began displaying charts linking Bolton to various Trump antagonists, including a book publisher he shares with — da-dum! — famous left-wing traitor James Comey. The publisher duly noted that its roster of clients includes Dobbs himself:
What makes Bolton more dangerous to Trump than other people who have flipped on him is his habit of copious note-taking. The Washington Post reports that Bolton would bring his yellow legal pads into meetings with Trump and take extensive notes. Trump famously distrusts people who take notes in his presence. According to the Mueller report, Trump berated his attorney Don McGahn for taking notes in his presence, pointing out that his former attorney Roy Cohn (who worked for various mob bosses and was ultimately disbarred) never took notes around him.
Trump’s suspicion of notetakers is well founded. He has spent his entire career engaging in unethical or illegal behavior. Contemporaneous notes are one of the most credible forms of evidence. Ultimately, Trump is going to have to convince his supporters that Bolton was a left-wing plant all along, and fabricated extensive evidence in a plot to frame the boss who was kind enough to take him in. What we can glean from all this is that Bolton’s evidence that Trump directly ordered a hold on military aid for Ukraine unless it announced investigations of his rivals is probably very solid.