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Impeachment Today Podcast: John Bolton, Messy, Loves Drama

In today's episode: Trump's lawyers make the case for his innocence, while John Bolton does... something else.

Posted on January 27, 2020, at 11:24 p.m. ET

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Trump's former National Security Advisor John Bolton appears at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last September.

It's Monday, January 27. Day seven of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Monday, January 27, day seven of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. Even though we were only apart for a day, it feels like a bazillion things have happened since our last episode. Let's just dive right in and wade through all the ish that has happened in the last 48 hours.

The President's team offered what they called a trailer of their case against removal on Saturday. Given that they wound up using only two of their 24 hours, it felt more like a teaser, that is things move at a super quick tempo and the plot wasn't really all that clear based on what was on the screen, but you leave with a catch phrase buried deep in your brain.

Speaker:

They didn't tell you what that would mean, but they didn't tell you that burden sharing ... They didn't tell you that. They didn't tell you this. They didn't tell you this. Didn't have time in 24 hours to tell you this. They didn't tell you about.

Hayes Brown:

Now that's a bumper sticker for you. The argument from White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, Trump's personal counselor, Jay Sekulow, basically boiled down to three parts. One, the process is rigged by the Democrats. Two, nothing that's being discussed in the House managers' case is even impeachable under the Constitution. Three, the President did nothing wrong, especially since there's no evidence of Trump holding up $391 million in military aid to Ukraine for his own benefit.

Speaker:
What's most interesting to me about this is that President Trump was only interested in Ukraine aid," his words, "nobody else. The US provides AIDS to dozens of countries around the world, lots of partners and allies. He didn't ask about any of them, just Ukraine."

Speaker:

I appreciate your service to our country. I really do. I didn't serve in the military and I appreciate that, but let's get our facts straight. That is what Manager Crowe said. Here's what actually happened. President Trump has placed holds on aid a number of times. It would just take basic due diligence to figure this out.

HB:

Okay. Well. See, that is interesting. That is really interesting because the New York Times reported on Sunday night that one Mr. John Bolton's book says something different.

Per the Times, the manuscript of Bolton's book says that President Trump told him, him, Bolton, the President, Donald Trump told John Bolton that he would not release the military aid to Ukraine until you Ukrainian officials helped with investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. That adds a crucial detail to the previously reported meeting that Bolton, then serving as Trump's national security advisor, had with the president last summer. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Defense Secretary Mike Esper left that White House meeting unsuccessful in their attempt to pry the aid for Ukraine loose. We've known for a minute now that president Trump is the one who ordered the aid held up in the first place last July. That's all not great for the President's defense, given his lawyers and supporters have said that the aid was being held up as a totally normal, not at all shady review of corruption in Ukraine. Weirdly enough, nobody who's testified has been able to say what that review entailed, who was in charge of it, or what changed to get the aid released last September. Bolton's story makes clearer than ever that the money was linked to Trump himself putting the squeeze on Ukraine.

A draft of the Bolton burn book is currently with the White House for standard review and officials are reportedly weighing their options to keep Bolton from testifying or the relevant passages in the book from being released. Now, if the White House had that manuscript, and they did, they had to have known what Bolton would want to say if he testified. Deputy White House counsel, Mike Purpura, had to have known about it when he said this.

Mike Purpura:

What did President Trump say to President Zelensky on the July 25 call? President Trump raised two issues. I'm going to be speaking about those two issues a fair amount this morning. They're the two issues that go to the core of how President Trump approaches foreign aid. When it comes to sending us taxpayer money overseas, the President is focused on burden sharing and corruption.

HB:

Interesting. At least, though, for the President's defense's sake, there's not audio of the president asking how long Ukraine would last in a fight with Russia without the US military aid that they desperately need. That would be really bad. Right, so we do have audio of the President being told very directly that Ukraine relies on the US and would it be squished like bug without us.

That audio was taken from a video recorded in 2018 that Lev Parnas's, lawyer released in full on Saturday. It was taken at the same dinner where Trump would later say the then US ambassador to Ukraine should be taken out. Parnas and his partner would help Giuliani do just that the following year.

Now, in theory, that combination of new information should make things awkward for Senate Republicans who have spent the last month and some change insisting that there was no need for witnesses in the trial even after Bolton offered to come forward. I am particularly keen to hear from Senator John Cornyn of Texas who had this to say about Bolton potentially testifying on the Hugh Hewitt Show earlier this month.

John Cornyn:

These are very smart guys, as you know, and I'm sure he would not have said what he said without gaming this thing out. It could well be, if he is called as a witness at some point, that his testimony would be enormously helpful to President Trump. I'm not sure that's what the Democrats have in mind.

HB:

Well, the Senate will be voting later this week on whether witnesses will be called or if this trial will wrap up, but I tell you this, the spin it's going to take to ignore this report could very well power a small city. A solution for climate change, it's within our grasp.

Now to cap off this rollercoaster of emotions, we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, a zero is a normal day in a normal White House and ten is president Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning we're at an 8.3. Is this the biggest jump in Nixometer history? Maybe? I'll check with our producer Allen, who's been manning the Nixometer tracking spreadsheet. What a difference a day makes.

The sneak peek of Bolton's book and the new audio of the President means that a big part of the defense of Trump has been shot down before his team could even get rolling. Will that matter in the days ahead as the Senate decides whether to keep this trial a going or shut her down? I can't say at this point, but buckle in. It's going to be a hell of a week.

Okay. After the break, we'll work our way through some of the stuff that's left you all going, What?" over the last few weeks. Stick around.

Okay. We've got a special edition of What the Fuck Was That. Today, we're actually going to sit down and have a listen to Rudy Giuliani's new podcast together. All right. Ready? Here we go.

Rudy Giuliani:

Welcome to the first episode of Rudy Giuliani's com-

HB:

Yep. Nope, Nope. JK, JK. It is too Monday for that right now. All right.

Instead, this time around, we're actually going to try to answer some of your questions about what's been happening over the last few weeks. First of all, mea culpa, we've gotten quite the backlog of questions from you all by now, but we've had just so much to tell you every day it's been hard to make room.

With that said, let's take a listen to this question sent in by Olivia from Canada.

Olivia:

Hi, Hayes. I absolutely love the podcast. Thank you for making it. I live in Canada. I was just wondering if you could speculate on the impact of the impeachment proceedings and the outcome of that on America's trading partners, particularly Canada, because we are especially dependent on trade with the US. Trump's trade policies have been very disruptive. I live in Hamilton, Ontario. Those steel tariffs had particularly close to home. I'm just wondering how you think those trade policies and other impacts on trading partners might depend on the outcome of the impeachment proceedings. Thanks so much. Bye.

HB:

It's honestly really hard to say how impeachment is and isn't affecting things like trade policy. Because absent a presidential tweet, those are the sort of things that in Washington just sort of work on in some kind of wonky version of Newton's first law. A policy in motion stays in motion unless acted on by some outside force.

Now, there was talk about Trump's killing of an Iranian general earlier this month being part of the President's impeachment calculus. He's certainly trying his hand at counter programming this week with big events at the White House. But absent Trump lashing out on Twitter with a new round of tariffs because he's cranky about impeachment, don't bet on any big changes. Heck, he's going to announce new tariffs isn't he?

Next, keeping up the international flavor, we've got this from Joseph in the UK.

Joseph:

Hi, Hayes, my name's Joseph and I live in London in the UK. If somehow Trump is found guilty in the House and is removed as president, Mike Pence presumably kind of automatically takes over. My question is, how quickly does that happen? Does he get inaugurated like every other president does in a traditional way or does he kind of stay a baby sitter president? Is an election called even sooner than the one coming up? What's the process in that currently hypothetical situation? Thanks so much. Love the show.

HB:

Joseph, that is such a great question because this is one of those things where we just don't know the details of how it would work since it's never happened. Yes, the Vice President, Mike Pence, would automatically take over in theory, but the actual logistics of switching over an administration like that, that's entirely unclear. The closest thing we have for precedent would honestly be either Richard Nixon resigning, where he signed a document for the secretary of state leaving his post, or a situation we've had in the past where the president has died in office, thrusting the VP into the big job. The newly minted President Pence would be finishing out Trump's term, so he'd likely be the one on the ballot this November. Wild. Right?

Okay. From my DMs, we had this question from Warren: If Donald Trump is reelected this year, can he be impeached twice? Would the Democrats take another shot if they held the Senate or would it be too politically divisive for too little gain?

Short answer, yes. He can be impeached as many times as the House finds charges that it believes should be passed as articles of impeachment. But even if Democrats do take the Senate, it would have to depend on a lot of different factors, including the alleged crime, for them to decide on whether to go for round two.

Another DM'ed question, this time from Zadbod69. With Bolton saying he would be willing to testify, is there anything preventing him from talking to the House managers or House committee directly and providing testimony for them to present?

Bolton was clear when he said in a statement that he'd respond to a subpoena from the Senate. When the investigation was ongoing in the House, he insisted that he'd only appear to testify if ordered by a court. Bolton is a pretty big believer in a strong executive, so he's always trying to minimize damage to the office of the president. Obeying a House subpoena in this case seemed to fit the bill for him. If the House were to subpoena him now, it is entirely likely that Bolton goes back to court to fight it on up through the system. For whatever reason, including his upcoming book, he's decided that a subpoena for the Senate trial would be worth the hit to the presidency.

Finally we have this question from Hailey.

Hailey:

Hey, Hayes. Quick question. If all of the Senate is under oath and supposed to do impartial justice, and we clearly have a case against Donald Trump, how are the Senate leaders just allowed to kind of lie and say that he didn't do these things when they are very clearly under oath and supposed to be doing the right thing for our country and our Constitution? Thanks.

HB:

Power politics. I wish there was more to that answer, Hailey. I really do.

All right. That's all the time we have for now. Keep on sending in your questions though. Just open the voice memo app on your phone and send your query on in to impeachment@buzzfeed.com or hit up my DMs. They're open 24/7.

It's time for the latest edition up Trial Watch 2020. It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial. I for one am going to be fascinated to see what the hell the President's defense is going to pull out given the revelations of this weekend that we mentioned earlier in the show.

The D-team has said that they don't plan to use the entirety of their time when presenting their case against removal, but they will use the bulk of that time on Monday. Based on what we saw on Saturday, we'll be hearing a lot about lead manager Adam Schiff's conversation with the whistleblower, which did not happen, and Hunter Biden being under investigation, he was not, neither of which though are really relevant to whether the President used his office to pressure the government of Ukraine to launch investigations that would help President Trump politically. All this to say, it's hard to preview an argument that boils down to, who are you going to believe me or your lying eyes, ears, and general sense of logic.

This concludes Trial Watch 2020.

Okay, that is it for today. Tomorrow, we'll try to dig through the President's defense for nuggets of wisdom to relate to you, the people. Thanks to all of you out there who have subscribed to the show so far. If you're listening for the first time or just haven't gotten around to it, please, be sure to subscribe to impeachment today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice. Be sure to stick around as we figure out how this all ends together.

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