Plus, the death of Kobe Bryant and a voting rights story.
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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
John Bolton’s new book has explosive details, a question about how it will impact the impeachment trial and a Florida voting story.
John Bolton speaking at a conservative conference in 2017. Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr.
For the late email. Tangle usually hits your inbox around lunchtime, but both Substack’s servers and Google appear to be having some issues today. If you received this newsletter multiple times or just got it late, that’s why.
It’s not political news, but I did feel the need to acknowledge it. Yesterday, NBA great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter died in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles. Bryant was a hero to millions of young Americans (myself included) who grew up watching him play basketball and a divisive figure to others who believe his legacy was tarnished by allegations from 2003 that he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old. Bryant seemed hellbent on having an even bigger impact in his post-retirement career than he did as a player, flourishing as a writer, filmmaker, community organizer and entrepreneur. While Bryant was best known for what he did on the court and his insatiable work ethic, he will also be remembered for his open, unabandoned love for his daughters and family. Bryant’s last viral moment was actually last week when cameras caught him in a candid moment explaining to that same 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, a sequence of the game to her. He left behind a wife and three kids. For a heartwrenching write up on Bryant’s legacy, I highly recommend this piece of writing from Bill Plaschke, who covered him LA for decades.
On Friday, President Trump unveiled the new logo for the Space Force. As many people pointed out, it had a striking resemblance to both a Star Trek logo and the Air Force logo:
What D.C. is talking about.
John Bolton’s new book. Given his former position as a national security adviser and his high-level access, Bolton has been considered a critical witness to the question of whether Trump was withholding congressionally approved military aid to pressure Ukraine’s president into announcing an investigation into the Biden family. Congress had requested that Bolton testify, but the White House blocked him from doing so. Bolton said he would appear before Congress if here were subpoenaed and a judge ordered him to show up. Instead of waiting for the courts to sort out the matter, Democrats pushed forward without his testimony and got the votes to impeach Trump in the House, a reality some Democrats have conceded amounted to “surrendering” to Trump’s stonewalling. That has left Bolton’s perspective on the events surrounding impeachment largely unanswered. Until last night.
The New York Times is reporting that draft manuscripts of Bolton’s new book include passages where Bolton writes that “President Trump told his national security adviser [Bolton] in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” Bolton also wrote dozens of pages about the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, undercutting many of the defenses each have made publicly, The Times reported. It is standard practice for former White House employees to submit manuscripts about their time in the White House to White House lawyers for review, which means the Trump administration was clued into what Bolton might say publicly if he were to testify (documents indicate Bolton sent the White House his manuscript right before the new year). This morning, some Senate Republicans bailed on a previously planned press conference, indicating the news had rocked the boat.
What the left is saying.
As former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted: “He did it. He’s guilty. And every Washington Republican is about to cover up the crime. Subpoena Bolton. Get a copy of the book. And stage massive protests outside Republican offices.” Trump’s lawyers are just beginning to mount their defense of the president, but the book will put increased pressure on Senate Republicans to allow witnesses like Bolton to testify in the trial. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “John Bolton has the evidence” and put the pressure directly on senators Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins: “It’s up to four Senate Republicans to ensure that John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and the others with direct knowledge of President Trump’s actions testify in the Senate trial.” For months, Democrats have been infuriated with the right’s talking point that there were no “firsthand witnesses” to Trump’s crimes, noting repeatedly that it’s only true because the Trump administration blocks everyone from testifying. This gives them a real-world, tangible example to harp on.
What the right is saying.
It’s hard to say. Bolton is a longtime Republican and a big name in conservative circles. Some never-Trump Republicans are clamoring for his testimony like Democrats are. For the most part, Trump supporters have been quiet on the news. Senate Republicans canceled a planned press conference this morning. The typical Republican defense has been that if Bolton was going to be heard from, House Democrats should have waited to get his testimony before impeaching Trump and sending everything over to the Senate. Trump himself has said Bolton, like other top administration officials, is bound by executive privilege and not allowed to divulge conversations with the president (judges and legal experts do not seem convinced by this defense). Other White House officials have written Bolton off as a disgruntled employee, as he resigned in protest when his differences with Trump on foreign policy became insurmountable. Some have also mocked the left for propping up Bolton — a longtime enemy of liberals for his “neocon” war stance — as a sudden bastion of truth. And, of course, people are also questioning his motives: is this just a promo for his book? “The problem with John is it’s a national security problem,” Trump said last week. “He knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive?” Republicans have continued to harp on past precedent and how it should stop Bolton from testifying. “They could have taken any of these subpoenas to court. They could have spent the time, as they have in the past, to bring the witnesses forward,” Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, told Politico. “That’s the way the process works. That’s the way it needs to work.”
This is pretty simple to me. John Bolton is a credible, firsthand witness who is directly contradicting the president. I absolutely believe he is cynical enough to be doing all this to promote his book, but I also don’t think that means he is lying. If the Times reporting is accurate (it hasn’t been refuted by anyone in Bolton’s camp), then Bolton’s testimony lines up with the testimony we heard from first, second and third-hand witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, who said Trump was withholding $391 million in security assistance from Ukraine until they announced an investigation into Joe Biden. Call Bolton forward, put him under oath, ask him the questions that matter and get to the truth. I’ve written before that this scheme was rather simple, and this latest revelation only adds to my confidence in the analysis I’ve put forward in the past. I’ve also said that Republicans, from the start, should have simply made the case Trump did what he did but that it wasn’t an impeachable offense. Instead, they’ve tried to say up is down and down is up and discredit credible witnesses, and now we’re here. Bolton should testify, and we (the American public) should be privy to as much information as possible while weighing a decision as momentous as whether to remove a sitting president from office.
In my January 8th edition of Tangle, I told you it was “too early to call balls and strikes” on the drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani. In the last week, I believe that writing has been vindicated. First, we learned that dozens of U.S. soldiers were undergoing treatment for traumatic brain injuries after Iran retaliated and launched strikes against Iraqi bases where U.S. soldiers were stationed (initially, the White House said no U.S. soldiers were harmed). Then, on Sunday, reports surfaced that missile strikes made direct contact with the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. U.S. officials are saying only one person has been injured, but as we just learned we should wait before stating that number officially. Regardless, though, the strike is another major escalation since Soleimani’s death. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but there’s good reason (and context) to believe it was Iran or an Iranian-backed militia. Click.
Your questions, answered.
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Q: Does the Bolton news matter? Will any new witnesses actually testify now?
- Tim, Lansing, MI
Tangle: It’s really tough to say. The news is still breaking and I suspect a lot of it will depend on how Americans react to it, what the phone lines in D.C. are doing and what people around the moderate Republicans willing to buck the party will say. Personally, I think it’d be an embarrassing spectacle for Senate Republicans to allow a crucial witness in their impeachment trial to share the most important evidence yet through a book manuscript and not call him forward. But Republicans do seem attached to the defense that because the House didn’t call Bolton forward as a witness they have no obligation to. Polls show 66% of Americans think new witnesses should be called in the trial. Is that enough to sway Republicans? Maybe.
If I had to bet right now, I’d say that Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Maine Sen. Susan Collins all vote for new witnesses and documents. That gets Democrats one vote from being there. Collins has repeatedly said that she wanted witnesses, and this morning released a statement doubling down on that stance.
That being said, Collins is frequently targeted by liberals to buck the Republican party and she has disappointed them before. Plus, Senate Democrats like Chuck Schumer are aggressively funding a challenge to Collins’ seat in Maine, which she has openly expressed anger over. They’re not exactly playing nice.
Assuming those three senators vote in favor of witnesses, that leaves Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She’s in a tough spot, given that she is from a red, rural state and enjoys pretty solid support there. But she also needs McConnell. Murkowski is a true legislator and there are a lot of relationships to burn by turning against Trump and bringing Bolton forward, which could drag this trial on for months (if they don’t call witnesses, it could be over by the end of this week). Back against the wall, I could see her protecting her interests and the interests of her constituents by sticking the party line and preserving her relationships in the Senate. But, again, that’s before seeing exactly how this plays out in the press. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see these Republicans move to call witnesses forward — and my opinion could change by the end of the day. There’s also Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman who could join a call for witnesses. I just haven’t yet seen enough to believe it’ll happen, and I think Mitch McConnell will pull out every stop he can behind closed doors to stop it. I wouldn’t underestimate him.
A story that matters.
In 2018, 65% of Florida voters approved a ballot measure to give voting rights to former felons. The measure was a groundbreaking change to Florida voting, creating over 1.4 million new voters who had been prohibited from casting a ballot because of a felony. But many Republican legislators thought the statute was too broad, and they fought it by qualifying the new law with legislation that required the ex-felons to pay off any remaining fines or fees related to their sentence before being able to vote. Conservatives in the state support the measure, saying ex-felons should be forced to pay fees and restitution to victims before being allowed the privilege of voting. Voting rights activists say it’s designed to keep the Republican party in power and violates the rights of men and women who served their time behind bars and paid the price for their crimes. Click.
- 2,744. The number of reported cases of coronavirus, the deadly infection spreading across the globe.
- 81. The death toll from coronavirus.
- 13. The number of countries with reported cases of coronavirus outside China and Hong Kong, where it originated.
- 5. The number of confirmed cases in the United States, according to the CDC.
- 50-44. The margin of people who think Trump should be removed from office vs. those who don’t, according to a new Fox News poll.
- 86%. The percentage of voters who said Bernie Sanders was “authentic,” according to a new CBS poll.
- 77%. The percentage of voters who said Pete Buttigieg was “authentic,” according to a new CBS poll.
- 71%. The percentage of voters who said Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren were “authentic,” according to a new CBS poll.
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I read some incredible statistics about libraries this morning, so I thought I’d share them. Apparently, in 2016, Americans paid 1.35 billion visits to public libraries. That’s more than the 1.2 billion visits they pay to movie theaters. And that’s more than the number of people who attend MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and NASCAR events in a single year combined. The numbers illustrate just how critical libraries are to the American public and just how popular they still are despite widespread belief to the contrary. I’m not sure why, but these numbers just struck me as good news. You can read more about the statistics — and the value of libraries — from the non-profit EveryLibrary that’s trying to raise money to keep libraries alive and well. Click.