“Those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it.” So said former White House official Fiona Hill in her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, explaining her own decision to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry and throwing some none-too-subtle shade at officials who’ve stayed quiet.
She’s right, of course. And with every passing day — with every low-ranking official who puts their career on the line in order to serve the greater good of the country — the failure of those top officials to fulfill their own obligations becomes more glaring.
So far, House Democrats have mostly held back from imposing personal consequences on men like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton. Both have followed the president’s orders not to cooperate. But that’s a choice they’ve made, and obviously, given the testimony of their colleagues, not the only choice they could make. The individuals who are stonewalling must be held personally accountable for these decisions, and both men should be formally subpoenaed to testify — and forced to face the consequences of ignoring a Congressional subpoena if they resist.
There are certainly plenty of questions to ask of the men, both of whom appear to have had front-row seats in the president’s scheme to extort the president of Ukraine into helping Trump’s reelection campaign — and in Pompeo’s case, according to US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s public testimony Wednesday, he seems to have played an active role. Bolton’s attorney has even teased the public, saying he could provide testimony on “many relevant meetings and conversations” related to the president’s extortion plot.
If the men receive a subpoena and ignore it, they’ll expose themselves to legal risk. It’s not likely that the Trump Justice Department would ever bring charges against them, but they’d have to worry that, if a Democrat wins in 2020, they could be in trouble. Pompeo is said to have future political plans, including a potential US Senate run. A subpoena would force him to choose whether to take the risk of running as a scofflaw.
Bolton is said to have been troubled by the extortion scheme; Hill testified that he called it a “drug deal” of which he wanted no part. Now he wants a court order to testify in an inquiry that would establish whether future presidents can get away with such deals. House Democrats decided not to subpoena him because they didn’t want to waste the time it would take to get a court order. Bolton’s stance is especially galling because he’s signed a reported $2 million book deal about his time in the White House — which he somehow managed to do without a court order.
Bolton is a well-established foreign policy maven with most of his career behind him. His unwillingness to testify is especially pitiful when compared to colleagues like 44-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who has no massive book deals to fall back on if his courage ends up derailing his future.
The initial reason the White House gave for resisting the impeachment inquiry was that the probe was illegitimate because there had been no formal authorizing vote on the House floor and the initial depositions took place behind closed doors. Neither justification made any sense, but even those flimsy pretexts have collapsed now that an impeachment inquiry authorized by a House vote is playing out in public hearings.
The only conceivable reason the White House could have for ordering Pompeo and Bolton not to testify is that the president is afraid of what they might say. The only conceivable reasons Pompeo and Bolton have for obeying that order is because they don’t want to incriminate themselves — or because they lack the moral compass that Hill, Vindman, and other officials showed this week. The House Intelligence Committee should subpoena them for testimony.