On January 26 and 27, The New York Times reported two bombshells from former national security adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book: President Donald Trump told Bolton that Ukrainian aid was contingent on the country investigating his political rival, and Bolton told Attorney General Bill Barr that Trump “was effectively granting personal favors” to autocrats. Barr reportedly agreed that, according to the Times, “Mr. Trump had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries.”
After the Times published the articles, some in right-wing media decided that the public should hear what Bolton has to say, but not through testimony in the Senate impeachment trial, where he would be under oath as a witness. Instead, these media figures suggested Bolton hold a press conference or write an op-ed.
If Bolton were to make a public statement on his manuscript, that commentary would be inadmissible in the impeachment trial; the rules state that “no testimony shall be admissible in the Senate unless the parties have had an opportunity to depose such witnesses.” Calls for Bolton to make a public statement appear to be attempts to make an empty overture toward transparency that will also protect Trump.
On January 28, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial claiming that nothing about Bolton’s published claims could possibly “change the impeachment result,” nor should it. But the board called for Bolton to make “a public statement, a TV interview, or an op-ed in this publication” to erase “any doubt about what he knows” regarding Trump before the Senate votes on whether to hear witnesses. “This doesn’t require testifying to the Senate,” the board wrote.
The same morning, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt speculated about how executive privilege could affect Bolton’s possible testimony, asking, “Does the president get to call executive privilege and then John Bolton is not allowed to talk or does John Bolton make that decision?” Brian Kilmeade replied that Bolton “could call a press conference today … because he’s a free man.” Steve Doocy highlighted that Bolton “wouldn’t be under oath,” but Kilmeade replied that people would then have to decide whether Bolton was lying in his book or his press conference. “Is he only going to tell the truth if brought in front of everyone?”
Later on Fox & Friends, senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano opined that it would be “perfectly lawful” for Bolton to discuss his manuscript on air despite Trump’s claim of executive privilege.
Later, on Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Liz Peek claimed that a public statement from Bolton “makes all the sense in the world. … Unless this is about boosting his book.” Peek also claimed that a public statement from Bolton “would lay to rest a lot of concerns,” but she also predicted that it will still be “a he said, he said situation” because Trump will deny everything Bolton says.
Many others in right-wing media are speculating that Bolton exaggerated claims in his book.
If right-wing media have any doubt or concerns about Bolton’s claims about Trump, then they should endorse putting him under oath. According to attorneys Eric Columbus and Andrew Kent, “once they’re out of office, officials who want to talk are shielded by the First Amendment,” and Bolton has already said he is willing to testify if subpoenaed.