Dems unlikely to subpoena Bolton

Dems unlikely to subpoena Bolton
© Getty Images

The Democratic push to haul former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonHave the courage to recognize Taiwan McConnell says Obama administration 'did leave behind' pandemic plan Trump company lawyer warned Michael Cohen not to write 'tell-all' book: report MORE before the House has fizzled out roughly a month after the Senate acquitted President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE.

Bolton had emerged as an alluring figure in the Democrats’ Ukraine investigation following revelations that his forthcoming book includes firsthand accounts that Trump withheld security aid to Kyiv to secure political favors — the crux of the Democrats’ impeachment case.

After Senate Republicans refused Bolton’s offer to testify in January, Democratic leaders floated the idea of reclaiming the baton and issuing their own subpoena to compel his appearance before the House — a strategy still being mulled by party leaders.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yet in interviews with almost 20 Democratic lawmakers on the committees with jurisdiction over Trump’s Ukraine dealings, the predominant view is that “impeachment fatigue” has dulled the appetite for Bolton’s participation, in the words of one lawmaker. Instead, the months-long Ukraine saga has given way to the 2020 campaign season — and many Democrats are only happy to shift the focus to health care, wages and other bread-and-butter issues that won them control of the House in the 2018 midterms.

“I would have liked to hear what he had to say, and I think that if there’s nothing to hide then we should have listened. But I don’t know that I would be in favor of opening it up again. Then it becomes the never-ending story,” said Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in Democrats broaden probe into firing of State Department watchdog House chairman slams Pompeo for suggesting US could 'disconnect' from Australia over China deal MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “When he said he was willing to come, that’s when we should have invited him.”

Some Democrats believe that pushing Bolton to testify and continuing the Ukraine investigation could bolster Trump’s reelection campaign, which has used impeachment to raise money and rile up the president’s base. 

Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence visits Orlando as all 50 states reopen The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin, Powell: Economy may need more boost; Trump defends malaria drug Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice MORE (D-Mo.), a senior member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said Democrats “have moved on, and away from impeachment,” warning that there’s no value in summoning Bolton “unless we’re gonna just reopen this whole inquiry.”

Another Democratic lawmaker familiar with the Bolton debate warned that any effort to compel his testimony would distract from Democrats’ legislative agenda — including emergency efforts to fight the coronavirus — just as the campaign season is heating up.  

“It overwhelms the other things that we’re trying to do, so I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the lawmaker said. “That would poison the well for a lot of that stuff.”

ADVERTISEMENT

And Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondStates plead for cybersecurity funds as hacking threat surges Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice Bottom line MORE (D-La.), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, accused Bolton of dangling offers to cooperate — without ever intending to follow through — for the sole purpose of promoting his unreleased book.

“One day he’s teasing something, the next day he’s doing whatever,” said Richmond. “Man up and do it on your own; I have no interest in subpoenaing him.”

To be sure, there are plenty of dissenting voices in the large and diverse Democratic caucus, particularly among more liberal lawmakers who say Congress has a constitutional responsibility to get to the bottom of Trump’s Ukraine policy, regardless of the political concerns. Relying on Bolton’s book, they say, is no substitute for having the longtime national security official testify under oath.

“It’s night and day,” said Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaGloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California Dozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House House Democrats push for virtual naturalization ceremonies in next coronavirus relief package MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s one thing to read a book, but you’re talking about legal proceedings — judicial proceedings. ... We’re talking about our democracy and the influence of foreign governments on our democracy.”

Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiGun control group rolls out House endorsements Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary House passes massive T coronavirus relief package MORE (D-N.J.), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed.

“I’ve always thought that he has insights that I would like to see delivered under oath, rather than in a profit-making book,” he said.

The divergent views have created a dilemma for Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi Sunday shows preview: Leaders weigh in as country erupts in protest over George Floyd death 5 things to know about US-China tensions over Hong Kong Pelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' MORE (D-Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders, who are fighting to keep their majority at the polls in November. To do so will require a delicate balance between energizing liberals, who are more prone to support aggressive steps like subpoenaing Bolton, and protecting moderates in battleground districts, who have struggled through the impeachment debate and are pleased to be beyond it.

Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Republicans voice optimism on winning back the House following special election victories GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans MORE (R-Minn.), who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, has predicted impeachment will cost Democrats their House majority this fall. 

“Everybody would like to hear from Bolton. Everybody. And Bolton should testify,” said Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDemocrats roll out national plan to reopen America Democrats press USDA to create rural coronavirus task force Dems unlikely to subpoena Bolton MORE (D-Vt.), a member of both the Intelligence and Oversight and Reform committees. “But can we make him? And is it wise to pursue it in the present moment? I’m not sure.”

Officially, Democratic leaders and committee heads maintain that they’re still weighing their options as they navigate an ever-changing playing field.

“We have not made a decision,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday. “I don’t have a timeline,” he added. “I’m going to leave it at that.”

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyGun control group rolls out House endorsements Overnight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Business groups throw support behind House Democrat's bill to provide pandemic risk insurance MORE (D-N.Y.), who heads the Oversight and Reform Committee, was similarly noncommittal.

“We’ll see. Things are under consideration,” she said. “I’ll let you know.”

Complicating their decision has been the uncertainty surrounding the publication of Bolton’s book. Initially scheduled for release on March 17, his publisher announced Tuesday that the date would be pushed to mid-May, pending clearance by the administration, which is screening the memoir for potentially sensitive information.

Trump has reportedly sought to block the publication altogether, leaving Democrats with little confidence it will ever be cleared while the president remains in office.

“I don’t have any confidence that the administration will scrutinize the contents of that book with an eye towards the appropriate classification considerations as opposed to just wanting to silence Mr. Bolton,” Schiff said. “I say that even though I have no great fondness for many of his positions.”

Bolton’s attorney did not respond on Tuesday to questions seeking comment.

Clouding the debate, Bolton had offered to testify under subpoena before the GOP-led Senate, but not before the House, which is controlled by Democrats. That’s only fueled the Democratic accusations that Bolton has used the high-profile impeachment debate to market his forthcoming book.

“There’s a general desire to know what John Bolton knows. But there’s also a concern about getting played. You wouldn’t want to invite him in until you see his book,” said the lawmaker familiar with the debate. “So there is a desire to know what he knows. But you’d want to do that in a way that’s in the interest of the public rather than in the interest of John Bolton.”