Independent Sen. Angus King Reflects On Bolton Bombshell
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Controversy kept building today over whether the Senate should call witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial - well, one witness in particular - former national security adviser John Bolton. The New York Times reported yesterday on Bolton's forthcoming book, "The Room Where It Happened."
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In the book, Bolton reportedly asserts that President Trump said he wanted to freeze military aid to Ukraine until its government helped with investigations into the Bidens - in other words, a clear quid pro quo, something the White House has steadily denied, including today from the office of the vice president.
I spoke earlier with Senator Angus King of Maine. He's an independent who caucuses with Democrats. And I asked him about the significance of Bolton's claims.
ANGUS KING: I've been saying for a month or more that we should be hearing from John Bolton because he was the most likely person to have direct evidence of what went on here. And, you know, this case boils down to what did the president do, and why did he do it? Everybody knows he froze the aid. Everybody knows there wasn't a White House meeting. So the question is why. And that's really the central issue that we're discussing, and John Bolton is in a position to answer that question or, at least, provide a partial answer to that question.
KELLY: As you say, that's been the case for weeks, for months. Now that we know this manuscript is out there and we have a sense of what it says, how might this change the impeachment trial?
KING: Well, I think I'm already hearing a number of Republicans who are moving toward voting to at least hear from John Bolton, if not other witnesses. I'll be honest, Mary Louise, I don't see how anybody at this point could say it's not important to hear from this guy. I mean, we all took an oath to do impartial justice. There's been a lot of focus on the word impartial, but I focus on the word justice. And the word justice involves knowing the facts. And I'll be amazed if there's a strong push to say, no, we're not going to allow John Bolton.
I mean, you're - it's one thing to say, we don't know what he's going to say; we don't really need to hear from him. But if there's some indication that he has information that bears directly on the heart of the case, to willfully say, we don't want to hear that, to me, basically just undermines the idea that this is a real trial.
KELLY: You would need four Republicans to cross the aisle. Do you think that there might be four?
KING: I think there'll be more than four. My bold prediction is there'll be five or 10.
KELLY: Would John Bolton be a credible witness? He's trying to sell a book.
KING: Well, that's - you know, and he also left under bad terms. I mean, I'm sure - you know, this is standard lawyering. If you get information or a witness that you don't like, you try to discredit them and say, well, he's not really credible. The problem is there's corroborating evidence around and in this case already - Fiona Hill's comment that John Bolton said, I don't want anything to do with this drug deal that Mulvaney and Giuliani are cooking up.
KELLY: Fiona Hill, the former White House top Russia adviser on the National Security Council.
KING: Correct. In other words, there's some contemporaneous corroborating evidence that John Bolton was in a position to know what was going on and that he didn't approve of it.
KELLY: The White House has, apparently, had a copy of Bolton's book since the end of December. And I wonder whether that raises any questions in your mind about the timing of this leak.
KING: Well, I'll tell you what bothers me about it was the unqualified assertion by one of the president's lawyers on Saturday morning that there - I think the statement was pretty close to, there is no evidence anywhere to prove that the president linked the aid to the investigations.
My question is, who in the White House knew about what was in this manuscript over the last three weeks? Now, it may have been that it was sequestered and that only a certain small group who was reviewing it for classified material knew about it. The question is, was the knowledge that this was Bolton's position, or at least we think his position - was that widespread in the White House, or was it kept close? That'll be a question, I think, that will have to be answered over the next few days.
KELLY: You're raising the question of whoever in the White House has read this manuscript, did they have a responsibility to make sure that the president's legal team presenting his defense in the Senate was speaking accurately?
KING: That's right. And, you know, one of the really hard things, too, for the president's defense to argue against hearing from Bolton is that one of the mainstays of their argument through this whole process has been that this is all hearsay - all we're hearing from. In fact, I wrote in my notes - I'm taking notes as the trial goes on. I wrote in my notes, there is no direct evidence of what the president did or thought. And I put in parentheses in my notes, so why not call the people who might have that direct evidence? You can't have it both ways. You can't say the case is based on hearsay, but we don't want to hear from the person who would, in fact, have direct knowledge.
KELLY: Before I let you go, Senator, what are you hearing from your constituents in Maine, and specifically in terms of whether they want witnesses, knowing that that will prolong the trial?
KING: Well, I checked that Thursday night. I haven't looked at it since. But as of Thursday night, about 95% of the calls that we were getting saying, you've got to have witnesses.
KELLY: Ninety-five percent.
KING: Oh, yeah. It was overwhelming. You know, some people were calling in to say, this whole thing is a hoax and you should leave the president alone. Some people were saying, we don't like this president; you should impeach him and get rid of him. But the bulk of the calls last week - in the hundreds - were - and Maine is a small state. I mean, you know, if it was California, it might be the thousands. But we were getting a substantial number of calls saying, what do you mean? This is not a trial. We've got to have witnesses and documents.
KELLY: Senator King, thank you.
KING: Thank you, Mary Louise - appreciate it.
KELLY: That is Maine Senator Angus King, an independent, about the timing of the leak.
John Bolton and his publisher released a statement today. They say, quote, "there was absolutely no coordination with The New York Times or anyone else regarding the appearance of information about his book at online booksellers. Any assertion to the contrary is unfounded speculation." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.