The Slatest

Trump’s Lawyers Argue That John Bolton’s Account of a Thing He Saw Is an “Unsourced Allegation”

Sekulow, wearing a dark suit and holding a briefcase, walks behind another attorney and past two law enforcement officers in a marble hallway.
Jay Sekulow arrives at the Capitol on Tuesday. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The re-relaunched Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump will be removed from office by impeachment trial before the end of his first term.

Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyers are currently up a creek because of the New York Times’ Sunday report about a forthcoming book by ex–national security adviser John Bolton.

Drafts of the book, the Times says, state that Trump told Bolton explicitly that he would not release military aid to Ukraine until it announced investigations into the Biden family and the alleged (i.e., nonexistent) plot to frame Russia for email hacks conducted against Hillary Clinton in 2016. This is a problem for Trump’s defense because he and his attorneys have repeatedly said that the aid holdup and the investigation requests were not connected, and despite the abundant evidence that Trump administration officials behaved as if they were, no one (before Bolton) had attested to having been told as much by Trump himself.

Republican senators would like to acquit Trump even if he did order a corrupt quid pro quo. But the GOP senators up for reelection in swing states don’t want the acquittal to look too much like a cover-up, and the existence of Bolton’s account is inconvenient for them because it makes it tougher for them to explain why he’s not being called as a witness.

On Tuesday, at Trump’s trial, attorney Jay Sekulow took a stab at providing cover for these purple-staters while he finished delivering the case for the defense:

What we are involved in here as we conclude is perhaps the most solemn of duties under our constitutional framework: the trial of the leader of the free world and the duly elected president of the United States. It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts.

“You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation,” he said later, also referring disparagingly if not coherently to “newspaper reports and allegations in an unsourced, maybe this isn’t somebody’s book who’s no longer at the White House.”

The thing that’s unsourced isn’t the allegation, which (per the Times) is made by John Bolton and involves a conversation John Bolton took part in. The only sources that are anonymous are the “multiple people” who, in the Times’ telling, described the manuscript to Times reporters. Trump’s lawyers want to conflate the two issues in order to make eyewitness testimony seem like rumor and innuendo.

The problem, for them, is that Bolton’s book is going to be released for everyone to read on March 17. If they want to hear from him before then, they could call him as a witness; he’s already said he’ll testify if asked. Moreover, a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday finds that 75 percent of Americans believe “witnesses should be allowed to testify in the impeachment trial.”

Whether out of a genuine sense of duty, or shame, or a desire to work up a scheme to cross-examine Hunter Biden on national TV, Republican senators are reportedly preparing themselves to at least open up the question of calling witnesses, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had closed off at the trial’s beginning and evidently hoped to keep closed. And now that the president’s defense team has suggested there’s something hazy about Bolton’s account, it’s hard to see how the Senate could turn down the chance to bring him in to clear it up.

There’s still no real doubt about what’s going to happen in the end, but even McConnell must be wondering what’s going to happen between now and then, so the meter is going up a very tiny amount.

The Impeach-O-Meter at 1 percent.
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis—Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks—Pool/Getty Images.