President Donald Trump arrives with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr to speak about the census in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
If you are observant, you’ve probably noticed a pattern with media “bombshells” involving Donald Trump. They usually boil down to something we’ve already known spun in a way to make it seem newly nefarious. Stamp it as a “scoop” or “breaking news” and away we go.
Last night, another supposedly major story dropped from The New York Times. It’s from John Bolton’s upcoming book and was leaked to Maggie Haberman. We’ll just start with the headline and move into the body of the article, as the two are disconnected in some ways.
SCOOP: Bolton book draft, circulated to associates and sent to WH for review process, describes a convo w POTUS where he says he doesn't want to release withheld aid till Ukraine turned over material related to investigations @nytmike and me https://t.co/N3Tsce4gR7
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 26, 2020
What’s not said in this headline is important, but to be fair, it does at least leave things vague enough that it’s not outright false. The obvious implication here is that Trump told Bolton to hold up aid, that Ukraine was threatened with said hold up, and that it proves a quid pro quo solely to get Joe Biden. That just so happens to be the narrative the media have inferred as well and are running with.
Sounds really bad, right?
The problem is that the actual meat of the article on that matter is much less sensational than is currently being portrayed by every blue-check mark journalist gasping on Twitter right now. Here’s what’s really being alleged.
The context of the conversation matters, if Bolton said he wanted the aid resumed and President Trump was complaining about how corrupt they were and how they interfered in our election that's completely valid and doesn't change anything at all about what we already know.
— Shem Horne (@Shem_Infinite) January 27, 2020
The above-highlighted excerpt is the key. What appears to have happened is that Trump told Bolton that he preferred to not send the aid to Ukraine until they turned over materials dealing with the Russia investigation. Let me repeat that: the Russia investigation.
While the Times then desperately tries to tie that to Biden to push the favored political narrative, it’s clear by how this is written that there’s no actual mention of politically targeting the Bidens. If that were in the manuscript, they would not have left it so ambiguous.
In short, Trump let a subordinate know that he was skeptical of Ukraine’s actions on fighting corruption and that he wanted to see them hand over materials relevant to investigating 2016 election interference before he released the aid. Nowhere in this article is there any indication that Ukraine was bribed, nor that they even knew the aid was on hold.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us about four months ago, as we’ve known since almost the beginning of this saga that the aid was 1) put on hold and 2) Trump wanted to see how the corruption investigations were undertaken. The questions surrounding impeachment don’t center on those things, but rather they center around the national interest and whether it was a purely political move. While some argue even those questions are largely irrelevant, as the President has broad authority on foreign policy, for the sake of argument let’s pretend they are important. Even still, absolutely nothing in this article moves the ball forward on those matters. Rather, it’s a rehash of old information presented from Bolton’s point of view via his new book.
In other words, nothing has actually changed. But regardless, “journalists” like Jake Tapper will ignore the actual money quote and report it as they see fit.
NYT: Trump told 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,” according to Bolton’s unpublished manuscript https://t.co/c9Z3yxryuM
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 26, 2020
As an aside, the Times does make another hilarious assertion, which is that the Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election was “legitimate.” Isn’t that convenient? It’s almost like Democrats get a pass on everything. It’s also a way for them to try to paint Trump’s concerns as impeachable in and of themselves.
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) January 26, 2020
Bolton sent his spokeswoman out after the news broke on this story to make claims that the leak of this material didn’t come from Bolton’s camp. That’s hard to believe given his book pre-order page went up concurrently, as if the entire thing was orchestrated to sell copies of it. It’s also not a coincidence that this is the same reporter that received the Comey memos.
Gonna go out on a limb and guess that this statement is completely false, that either/both Bolton's publisher and agent have the manuscript, and that the latter leaked it–at Bolton's urging–to the very same NYT reporter who ran Comey's leaked memos. https://t.co/sDFKwNdlvH
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) January 27, 2020
We’ve seen this game before. It’s an attempt to blow up the Senate trial just as Trump’s lawyers are getting ready to make their main defense today. This just happened to be leaked the night before, to The New York Times, and Bolton’s hawking a book at the same time? Come on, it is so transparent and I can’t be the only one tired of this cycle.
There’s an easy way to tell that what’s being reported isn’t as big of a deal as it’s being framed. Namely, by noting that the Times chose not to actually quote the manuscript directly. That tells you a lot about what is or isn’t actually in it given that the Times felt they needed to keep a certain level of ambiguity to maintain their narrative.
I have to think “bombshells” like this only jade the public more. People are done with this story and Bolton’s book isn’t going to rescue it.