The Pathetic Sham That Is Trump’s Defense

Have the John Bolton revelations changed the trajectory of the impeachment trial? Could be.

Dahlia Lithwick has a great summation of the Republicans’ defense strategy:

The Republican strategy for getting President Donald Trump off the hook in the Senate’s impeachment trial has largely been rooted in the denial of the existence of a little something we, in the reality-based community, call time. The Republicans would like to pretend that the past doesn’t exist, and also that the future won’t exist, because doing so allows them to confine the mountains of damning evidence against the president to a minimalist public display that consists of in-the-moment rantings about “no quid pro quo” and Adam Schiff and House Democrats’ impeachment strategy. Senate Republicans are also hyperfocusing on single pieces of evidence, like the “perfect phone call,” while blurring out every other witness or piece of evidence as irrelevant or untrustworthy. And as Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyers highlighted in the preview of opening arguments on Saturday, the name of the game in the coming days will be to cherry-pick a handful of data points in their client’s defense case, and ignore mountains of corroborating testimonial evidence, leaked emails, and ongoing media reports, all of which establish a clear timeline of the Ukraine scandal. As soon as that defense is phoned in, Republicans could vote quickly to decline to call witnesses and hear testimony, and the impeachment trial would end in acquittal. Then time can start up again. Everything is too early and too late because only this moment matters.

The problem is that the past keeps crashing into the present in ways that drag the future into it. And if John Bolton had planned to hurt Donald Trump — I assume he did, although it’s possible the manuscript was leaked without Bolton’s permission — the timing of the release couldn’t have been better.

The defense soldiers on. I don’t have the stomach to watch it myself, but I’m following a liveblog of the Trump lawyer defense on TPM. I understand that Ken Starr is saying “impeachment is hell” and too terrible a thing to ever do, and he should know.  And he “urged President Trump to use his executive privilege to prevent the release of documents.”

“Don’t release the documents, Mr. President. If you do, you’re injuring the presidency. Go to court,” Starr said. “We’ve heard concerns about the length of time that the litigation might take. Those of us who have litigated know that sometimes litigation does take longer than we would like. Justice delayed is justice denied. We would all agree with that.”

Got that? He’s urging Trump to continue to obstruct justice so that he doesn’t have to face justice. See also Josh Marshall, The Executive Privilege Claims on Bolton Are Totally Fake. In brief, Marshall says “executive privilege” can be used to stop someone from being forced to testify, but it can’t block testimony that someone wants to give. Second, any subpoenas coming from the Senate — which the Constitution says has the sole power to try impeachments — and with the Chief Justice presiding would not be reviewed by any court, period.

Greg Sargent writes that “Bolton’s lawyer says he provided the manuscript to the White House on Dec. 30, 2019, for classification review — nearly a month ago.” And the New York Times is reporting that the White House apparently didn’t alert Senate Republicans about this.

Republicans are angrily pressing the White House in private about the revelations from the manuscript, saying they were blindsided by the former adviser’s account — especially because the administration has had a copy of it since Dec. 30. Many Republicans have adopted the arguments offered by Mr. Trump’s defense team, but Mr. Bolton’s assertions directly contradict them.

As Greg Sargent says, there is no question that Trump’s lawyers have read Bolton’s manuscript and knew all along that he was about to go public with testimony that directly contradicts Trump’s defense. They were playing Senate Republicans for fools.

Are the Senators pissed? Well, Miz Lindsey canceled a press conference scheduled for today. We aren’t told why.

Bolton’s book is scheduled to be released on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.