Democrats face tough questions with Bolton

Democrats face tough questions with Bolton
© Greg Nash - UPI Photo

House Democrats vowing muscular oversight of the Trump administration face a prickly question in the days ahead: how vigorously to pursue new investigations into the divisive president just months before voters go to the polls to decide his fate.

New allegations about Trump’s contacts with foreign leaders have surfaced in former White House national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonJudge appears skeptical of Bolton's defense of publishing book without White House approval Maximum pressure is keeping US troops in Iraq and Syria Woodward book trails Bolton, Mary Trump in first-week sales MORE’s memoir, which is set to be released Tuesday, fueling calls for Democrats to revisit allegations of misconduct they’d explored for weeks during Trump’s impeachment.

 

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Yet the political environment has vastly changed in the months since then, as policymakers grapple with the deadly coronavirus — and the economic upheaval it’s caused — as well as issues of racial injustice that have captivated the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

The fast-changing dynamics have created a dilemma for Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (D-Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders, who are vying to energize liberal voters heading into November — a group demanding aggressive oversight and presidential accountability — while protecting vulnerable moderates who were relieved to shift the national debate from Trump’s foreign policy entanglements to issues like jobs and health care.

With that in mind, the Democratic heads of the investigative committees are now struggling to balance those tensions as they weigh whether to seek Bolton’s testimony.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Schumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said this week that Democrats are “not interested” in subpoenaing Bolton, who had refused to testify during the House impeachment investigation. Yet moments later, Nadler reopened the door to that possibility. 

“We may, we may,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “But we will see about that.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff to subpoena top DHS official, alleges whistleblower deposition is being stonewalled Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power MORE (D-Calif.), who was the lead impeachment manager, is similarly on the fence. But in an interview with CNN on Monday, Schiff acknowledged the pressure facing party leaders, saying “there is a lot of interest” among Democrats in hearing what Bolton has to say, even if it is “belated.” 

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To decide a path forward, Pelosi is in active conversations with Nadler, Schiff and the leaders of four other committees that had a hand in the impeachment inquiry. The Speaker has long supported strict oversight of the White House, but she’d also been an initial holdout in efforts to oust Trump, fearing a backlash against Democratic centrists in Trump-won districts. 

The Democrats’ legislative calendar this month has highlighted popular, poll-tested issues that featured prominently in their successful House takeover in 2018: protecting health care and bolstering the nation’s infrastructure. 

And even some liberal Democrats are privately questioning the political wisdom of seeking Bolton’s testimony so close to the elections. While they may not have his story under oath, they maintain, his allegations will be made public in his book.

Democrats are also closely watching how several key court challenges play out, including their case against former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s probe who refused to comply with a congressional subpoena for his testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry. 

That challenge is before an appeals court, which reheard the case at the end of April but has yet to issue a verdict. The case could go to the Supreme Court before House Democrats have a resolution in strengthening their efforts to get witness testimony from reluctant officials and an uncooperative White House.

Democrats say Bolton could again try to run out the clock. 

“If we had followed the John Bolton timeline of litigating this in court, the president would not have been impeached and we would not have learned all of the corrupt practices he was doing with Ukraine,” said Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellHouse to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Swalwell calls for creation of presidential crimes commission to investigate Trump when he leaves office 'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence panel. “I’ll leave it to Schiff on what the right course is with Bolton, but I don’t think there’s an appetite to play the ‘I’ll see you in court’ game with Bolton.”

Bolton also has proved he is willing to put up a fight.

During the House impeachment inquiry last year, Bolton threatened to join a lawsuit filed by his deputy that challenged a subpoena for his testimony. Democrats gave up their pursuit for fear the legal challenge would help run out the clock.

Bolton then frustrated both parties and the White House by offering to testify during the Republican-controlled Senate impeachment trial. GOP senators ultimately defeated Democrats’ push to hear from witnesses. 

In his book due out Tuesday, Bolton focused on Trump’s contacts with foreign leaders, accusing him of adopting lawlessness “as a way of life.” The charges led to counterattacks from Trump, who called him “incompetent,” and an unsuccessful effort by the Justice Department to block the book’s release. 

Yet Bolton also trained his sights on House Democrats, saying they should have conducted a broader investigation instead of strictly focusing on Trump pressing Ukraine to investigate his political foes — a charge that’s infuriated Democrats who had sought his testimony last year. 

“He’s no patriot, he’s no hero here,” Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowClark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Trump-Afghan deal passes key deadline, but peace elusive Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats MORE (D-Colo.), another impeachment manager, told CNN on Monday. “He’s trying to cast blame at other places to compensate for the fact that he didn’t do what he needed to do for the country at the time he needed to do it.”

Bolton has rejected such criticism, saying his testimony would not have altered the outcome of the Senate impeachment trial.

“The primary way we rein presidents in is not through impeachments, it’s elections,” Bolton, a strong believer in executive power, said Monday on ABC.

The former national security adviser claims in his forthcoming book that Trump held off on imposing sanctions against China over Beijing’s detention of Uighur Muslims in order to negotiate a better trade deal with China.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE’s admission that he is looking the other way and enabling one of the worst human rights atrocities of our time in order to ink a trade deal is appalling,” Pelosi said Monday. 

Bolton also said Trump vacillated between supporting opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president of Venezuela following the country’s disputed 2018 election, and authoritarian dictator Nicolás Maduro. 

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The president in an interview all but confirmed these claims. 

“Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal,” the president told Axios in an interview released Sunday. “And when you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on — we’ve done a lot.”

He also indicated he is willing to meet Maduro, while expressing a lack of enthusiasm for Guaidó, who is backed by Washington.

The accusations have captured Democrats’ attention. Whether they act on them by calling Bolton in, however, remains to be seen.

“There’s going to be a lot about this president that it’s going to need to be retrospectively investigated,” Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesMany Democrats want John Bolton's testimony, but Pelosi stays mum SEC's Clayton demurs on firing of Manhattan US attorney he would replace Democrats face tough questions with Bolton MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. “This presidency has become a criminal enterprise.”