Right-wing media are going gaga over an interview that former national security adviser John Bolton gave in August to Radio Free Europe, in which he discussed Ukraine policy and said that ensuring Ukraine’s security and dealing with corruption are “high priorities here [in Ukraine], obviously, but high priorities for the United States, as well.”
This, they say, proves that Bolton knew Ukrainian corruption was a legitimate concern of the Trump administration and exonerates Trump in the impeachment trial, meaning there’s no need for Bolton to testify.
But here’s the thing: This video clip only makes Bolton’s testimony more vital, as he could clarify both the interview and his upcoming book’s statement that Trump tied Ukrainian military aid to the country’s announcement of an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. And that clarity becomes especially important considering Bolton could give only vague answers about some crucial aspects of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship that have now become key to the impeachment itself.
On Wednesday night, Trump tweeted out a clip of Fox’s coverage of the Radio Free Europe interview, declaring, “GAME OVER!”
And just Thursday morning, anchor Sandra Smith declared on America’s Newsroom that the interview called Bolton’s credibility “into question” — continuing the new campaign from right-wing figures against Bolton, their former compatriot, in the wake of the revelations in his upcoming book.
Fox News’ online coverage went further, saying that Bolton “acknowledged, as Republicans have claimed, that combating ‘corruption’ in Ukraine was a ‘high priority’ for the Trump administration.” (The phrase Bolton used was “high priorities for the United States” — not directly attaching it to Trump himself.)
However, everyone sharing this little video clip would do well to watch the entire 20-minute interview. With a bit of a wider perspective, they would see some rather pointed moments for Bolton and his noncommittal answers.
For example, reporter Olena Removska asked him about the lengthy process for the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, and why those missiles already sold to the country the previous year had to be stationed away from the eastern front, where they’d actually be useful in deterring Russian aggression.
“Well, I can tell you that military sales from the United States are a slow and frustrating process” for both sides, Bolton said, while declining to comment on a “specific transaction.”
As for the previous weapons having to be stationed away from the front, Bolton chalked it up to “strategic circumstances at a given time,” which can also change: “But again, because these are sometimes the subject of sensitive discussions between the parties, it’s best not to sort of talk about them in public. But we’re optimistic for progress.”
Removska also asked, as her final question, when the much-discussed meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Vlodorymyr Zelensky was going to actually happen. “Because it was announced, if I’m not mistaken, in June,” Removska said, “and it’s late August already.”
“That’s a very short period of time is all I can say in terms of meetings, the way these things are handled,” Bolton replied, then speculating that an upcoming commemoration of the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II “could be a very good time.” (Trump ultimately did not attend that event in Warsaw, due to Hurricane Dorian, sending Vice President Mike Pence instead.)
This fuller context shows just how murky the situation was in U.S.-Ukraine relations. While Bolton said that protecting both Ukraine’s security and efforts to fight corruption were important, he also dodged these other key questions.
There’s one thing that would really straighten all these apparent conflicts out: bringing in this key witness to testify on exactly what was going on.