OPINION — Flush with the holiday spirit, I have decided to hand out my presents early. Of course, given the economics of 21st-century journalism, I am offering the only gifts that I can afford — free advice.
Luckily, with the House Judiciary Committee kicking off impeachment hearings this week, Washington is filled with troubled and misguided souls in both parties who would benefit from my sage and selfless counsel.
Normally, a government official would be celebrating if within two months of his forced departure from the White House, he was rewarded with a reported $2 million book deal with Simon & Schuster. But Bolton, who lasted 17 months as Donald Trump’s third national security adviser, may be counting his money with more than a tinge of loneliness.
Bolton has long been reviled by Democrats for his ultra-hawkish views and his contempt for traditional diplomacy. It was why he could never be confirmed as ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush and had to settle for a recess appointment.
At the same time, Bolton, who views Russia as an implacable enemy and Kim Jong Un as an international menace, was never comfortable with Trump’s dictators-are-my-buddies international style.
Too gruff and independent to be a Trump flunky, Bolton sent his deputy Fiona Hill to inform the White House lawyers when she learned of the administration’s effort to shake down Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden. According to Hill’s testimony, Bolton even colorfully called the extortion plot a “drug deal” and stressed that he wanted no part of it.
Now, still no friend of the Democrats and loathed by Trump loyalists, Bolton has come to a career crossroads.
He has refused to testify before the House Intelligence Committee unless ordered by the courts, but he has also tantalized congressional investigators with hints at what he might say. His attorney stated in a formal letter last month that Bolton “was personally involved in … many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far.”
Bolton seems to believe that he can have it both ways — not testify and then sometime after the election electrify the nation with bombshell revelations in his book.
My gift for Bolton may seem odd since it is nothing more than 40-year-old book sales figures. But they are deeply relevant to the decision that Bolton could make tomorrow or next week to be the last surprise impeachment witness.
Even though John Dean supposedly told his dramatic tale of a “cancer growing on the presidency” on television during the Senate Watergate hearings, his subsequent book, “Blind Ambition,” sold more than 250,000 hardcover copies and 700,000 in paperback.
Bolton, who has a sizable ego, should ask himself, “Who will buy my book if I don’t testify?”
Democrats are not likely to put up with his hawkish blustering about Iran, even if it comes with a few dishy Trump anecdotes that are served way too cold. And Bolton, who has already broken with Trump, should not expect the Republican National Committee to spend $100,000 on bulk orders of his book, as they did for Donald Trump Jr.’s “Triggered.”
So Bolton should — for both crass commercial reasons and to thwart Vladimir Putin’s manipulation of Trump — make the hardest telephone call of his life, lifting up the receiver to tell Adam Schiff: “On due reflection, I’m ready to testify whenever you want me.”
Given the deft way that she has handled impeachment up to now, Pelosi may seem like one of those people impossible to shop for since she has everything. But, in truth, she may have reached the point at which her bag of tricks is finally empty and she just wants impeachment to go away.
Pelosi scored a coup by disregarding egos, seniority and normal committee jurisdiction by handing the initial phase of the impeachment investigation to Schiff and the House Intelligence panel. But now, she may be thwarted as the House Judiciary Committee, led by the uninspiring Jerry Nadler and filled with left-wing firebrands, begins its own hearings.
The speaker’s apparent strategy is to rush things through so that the House votes on impeachment just before the Christmas recess. But this breathless pace is a formula for Democratic disaster since a rushed House vote and a quickie trial in the Senate will fail to change any minds among either congressional Republicans or up-for-grabs suburban voters.
A far wiser approach would be for Pelosi to slow things down in a last-ditch effort to get other key figures like Bolton to testify, even if it requires a court test of congressional subpoenas. Also, the articles of impeachment should be broad enough to include the foreign Emoluments Clause since so much of Trump’s foreign policy seems entwined with his business dealings, especially his dream of a Trump Tower Moscow and the reality of his Trump-logoed twin towers in Istanbul.
House Judiciary Republicans
You have one coherent defense against impeachment: Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine was regrettable but not grave enough to remove him from office. This was the argument that retiring Texas Republican Will Hurd made in the House Intelligence Committee.
Instead, most Republicans on the Intelligence panel got caught up in the crazed and incomprehensible conspiracy theories of Jim Jordan. My advice to the Republicans is to accept the unanimous verdict of the United States intelligence services that it was Russia (and not Ukraine or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick) that hacked the 2016 election.
House Judiciary Democrats
Before you say a word during the upcoming hearings, ask yourself the simple question: “What would Jim Jordan do?” Then, lower your voice, drop the hyperbole and say the exact opposite.
Walter Shapiro has covered the last 10 presidential campaigns. He is also a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and a lecturer in political science at Yale. Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.