Former national security adviser John Bolton has offered to testify for Donald Trump’s impeachment trial if subpoenaed. The possibility that four Republican senators would break with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and call for Bolton to appear seems somewhat remote, though there is always the possibility that the House could renew its subpoena for Bolton and see if he would honor his commitment by speaking on the other end of Capitol Hill.
But no matter what Bolton decides, Donald Trump made it clear on Friday that he intends to clamp a tiny hand over Bolton’s mustachioed mouth. In an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, Trump explained again how anxious he is for the facts to really come out in his Senate trial, then pulled out his well-worn executive privilege card and declared he would stop Bolton from appearing. Trump announced that he wasn’t blocking Bolton’s potentially game-changing testimony because it might lead to defeat in 2020 or even an early moving van pulling up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead Trump said that he had to do it “for the sake of the office."
The Friday statement aligns with another Trump made on Thursday in which he said that “we have to protect presidential privilege," which is not a thing, and most tellingly … "When we start allowing national security advisers to just go up and say whatever they want to say, we can’t do that."
Actually, we can. Especially during impeachment hearings. Though Richard Nixon made an effort to hide the recordings made in the Oval Office after they were revealed during congressional hearings on Watergate, neither he nor Bill Clinton made any effort to stop witnesses from appearing at impeachment proceedings, and neither did either put any limits on what witnesses might say. On the other hand, Trump hasn’t just ordered White House staff not to cooperate and refused to hand over all documents, he has also taken an expansive view of privilege from the moment he moved into the White House, one that includes blocking access to individuals many steps removed from the White House and reaching back to protect members of his campaign and transition team.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled against the kind of expansive claim of privilege that Trump is making. There is no new law to be decided here. If Trump was taken to court over blocking Bolton’s testimony, he would lose. Trump’s statements that he had to block Bolton’s testimony to protect the office are clearly nonsense, because in previous instances such testimony from top officials wasn’t just allowed, but assumed. Trump isn’t preserving anything—except himself.