(June 18) Just about everyone in the U.S. public square is criticizing John Bolton for waiting until now to tell of his experiences with President Trump.

Just about everyone is wrong.

Bolton, the former national security adviser, is all over the news this week because of excerpts released from his soon-to-be-published memoir, The Room Where It Happened. The excerpts make Trump look ignorant, incompetent, intellectually unstable, and corrupt. In response, from right, center, and left, the furious cry has rung out: “Why didn’t you testify when it mattered?”

A fair review of Bolton’s political philosophy, the circumstances, the legal maneuverings, and the timelines shows that he had very good reason not to testify before the House of Representatives, and the only reason he didn’t testify to the Senate is because cowardly senators refused to let him.

In other words, don’t blame Bolton.

Last fall and early winter, Bolton found himself in an awkward spot. He has long been known as a proponent of a strong executive with robust privileges against certain sorts of disclosures. He also clearly thought the nation needed to know that Trump was an unsteady hand at the wheel of governance. He also knew, beyond any doubt, that Trump and his team are vindictive and, worse, that they gladly use state power, including that of a politicized Justice Department, to crush their perceived enemies.

Finally, Bolton saw that the House was cutting massive corners in its impeachment investigation in ways that made it impossible to tell if he was even legally free to testify.

The precise extent of executive privilege is an unsettled question in the courts. Trump had issued a blanket directive for his aides not to cooperate with the House investigation. Bolton’s deputy, Charles Kupperman, had filed suit to force a court decision about whether he was legally bound to follow Trump’s directive, or whether he would be legally required to comply with a House subpoena. Bolton let it be known that he would not testify to the House until Kupperman’s case was decided….

[The full column is here.]


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