The Senate has two options at this juncture in the impeachment trial of President Trump: It can conduct a sham trial. Or it can call witnesses to the president’s misconduct, including former national security advisor John Bolton.
The choice before Senate Republicans became much starker after news emerged Sunday that Bolton has written a book that describes how the president was personally involved in an illegal scheme last year to shake down Ukraine to investigate a political rival. The extent of the president’s personal role is a key point of contention in the trial, and any serious effort to establish the facts would involve calling a witness who has now indicated — in writing! — that he has first-hand knowledge.
If senators decide not to call Bolton as a witness and refuse to hear what he has to say, it will strip away any pretense that the impeachment trial is the impartial proceeding envisioned in the Constitution that senators are sworn to uphold.
Trump has been accused of withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, an act deemed illegal by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, as a way to pressure the country into announcing an investigation into one of Trump’s political opponents, former vice president Joe Biden. That’s worse than a crime: It’s an abuse of power. If the abundant expert testimony the House built its case on is true, Trump used the authority of the presidency and taxpayers’ money to extort a foreign country into helping his own reelection campaign and into undermining American democracy. Trump then stonewalled the Congressional inquiry into the shakedown, leading to the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress.
The Senate’s job, under the Constitution, is to hold a trial to determine whether the president is guilty of the House’s allegations and should be removed from office.
Every impeachment trial, including that of Bill Clinton, called witnesses to aid in that determination. But the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has been working to prevent any witnesses at Trump’s trial. And until Sunday night, it might have been possible for a GOP senator to concoct a rationalization: What new information could a new witness provide?
But Bolton, in his unpublished book, has reportedly written that the president directly told him that he was withholding aid until Ukraine launched a Biden investigation. His testimony would undercut the assertion by the president’s defenders that he was merely interested in rooting out corruption in Ukraine and would establish the president’s personal involvement in the scheme. And that’s precisely why the Senate Republicans who have been collaborating with White House counsel to protect the president at the expense of the country don’t want to hear it.
What’s especially absurd is that some Republicans now contend that the House should have called Bolton if they wanted his testimony to be included in the impeachment trial. The House did request Bolton’s testimony — and Trump ordered him not to cooperate. Republicans can’t very well both defend the president for blocking House testimony and say Bolton should have testified. What the House can and should do is open a new inquiry to subpoena Bolton again if the Senate or Chief Justice John Roberts will not.
Whatever Bolton knows needs to be part of the official record of this impeachment. If the Senate decides not to hear from him, it won’t prevent politically damaging information from becoming public (Bolton’s book is due out in March). It will only ensure that the trial will not be the fair proceeding that the Constitution calls for and that the American people have the right to expect. It’s time that senators of conscience be willing to put the Constitution over their allegiance to a corrupt president and demand that Bolton be heard.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.