The John Bolton Wildcard

5 mins read

John Bolton, who refused to testify in the House proceedings, said he’d testify at the Senate trial, if subpoenaed.

This puts Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a tight spot.


Let’s do a quick review of the Senate trial rules. The full post I did is here.

Rules V and VII, provide that the Chief Justice (who presides over the trial) may make all orders and rulings that an ordinary judge would make.

(“May” means he doesn’t have to: He can defer the decision to the Senate.) The hitch is that even if the Chief Justice does make a ruling, he can be overruled by a majority of Senators.

If John Bolton sticks by this, I envision the process looking like this:

The House Managers call Bolton as a witness, and explain that he refused to testify during the investigation and is willing to testify now.

Roberts will order Bolton to testify because this is what a judge would do, and Roberts has never shown himself to be utterly unhinged. Moreover, Roberts has never indicated a desire to forever break the American judiciary, so he’ll order Bolton to testify.

To stop it, a member of the Senate will have to object to Bolton’s testimony.

This will trigger a vote.

One absolute given in the rules is that the doors must remain open. So the vote will be public. Each Senator will have to vote on the record.

This is the part where the GOP Senators find themselves in a pinch.

Imagine them doing this:

  • One by one, each refuses to hear evidence from a witness with first hand knowledge.
  • They declare the president exonerated. I wouldn’t put that past the GOP Senators—but if they do it, it will be in public, splashed across the headlines.

On the other hand, they might not. (Nobody has a crystal ball, and the situation is changing constantly. If anyone tells you, “This will” or “this won’t” happen, take it with a grain of salt.)

Schiff responded to Bolton’s announcement by saying this:

And right on cue, Pelosi applied pressure:

Time for a reality check about what we can expect. I’m a fan of the 538 polling aggregate because it prevents us from focusing on outlier polls, and it shows patterns over time. (Nate Silver explains his methodology on the site)

It looks to me like no matter what happens, 42% of Americans will support Trump. This chart persuades me that even if Trump’s taxes proved that he was beholden to Putin, about 40% of Americans would be fine with that.

When presidents win with landslide victories, they win with between 58% and 62% of the vote. I think this was one of our biggest landslide elections (maybe the biggest)

Even FDR, at the height of his popularity, got about 60%. The Democrats won in 2018 with 8 percent lead. Even with all the voter suppression and cheating. All you have to do is widen that by a point or two.

The GOP certainly won’t expand its base if they vote for a sham trial and then declare Trump exonerated.

Thus, while these numbers may not be enough to remove Trump from office, they set the GOP up for a landslide loss in 2020. Trust me: McConnell understands this. That’s why he wanted the trial over in December with a quick vote.

Bolton’s new declaration shows that the 2-week delay has already hurt the GOP. (Two weeks is an eternity in Washington politics.)

Originally posted on Musing About Law, Books, and Politics.
Re-posted with permission.

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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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