Ed Markey has never been a John Bolton fan, but he thinks he could be a ‘difference maker’

"Let's hear from Bolton. Let's subject him to examination. And let's test this evidence."

 Sen. Edward J. Markey speaks to the media to discuss the latest on the U.S. Senate's impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Sen. Ed Markey speaks to the media Sunday to discuss the latest in the Senate's impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. –(Erin Clark / The Boston Globe)

Sen. Ed Markey has never had many nice things to say about John Bolton.

In 2018, when Bolton was appointed as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Markey called the foreign policy hawk and Iraq War architect “a grave danger to the American people.” The Massachusetts senator has since criticized Bolton over everything from Iran to North Korea to nuclear proliferation. Even as far back as 2005, Markey called his appointment as ambassador to the United Nations a decision “we will live to regret.”

But now, the Malden Democrat thinks it’s imperative that Bolton be heard.

Following reports Sunday night that the Republican president told Bolton he wanted to block military aid to Ukraine until the country launched investigations into the Bidens, Markey says Republicans can no longer “hide.” The GOP majority has resisted calls from Democrats to allow witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, but Markey hopes the new reports will motivate at least a handful to change their positions and vote to at least let Bolton testify.

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“This Bolton bombshell is sending political shrapnel toward the Republican Party, and I think that it can be a difference maker if four Republicans are willing to accept the damage that will be done to their party and to the Constitution if they don’t stand up,” Markey told Boston.com in an interview Monday.

Still, he’s “not optimistic” it will happen.

As The New York Times first reported Sunday night, an unpublished manuscript of an upcoming book by Bolton says that Trump told the since-fired national security adviser that he wanted to continue to hold up $391 million in assistance to Ukraine, unless the country opened investigations into Joe Biden — the former vice president and Trump’s potential 2020 opponent — and his son Hunter based on unsubstantiated claims of corruption.

According to Markey, Bolton’s account would undermine “the heart” of the defense presented by Trump’s legal team, which has tried to make the case that there’s no evidence of a link between the frozen foreign aid and Trump’s politically motivated requests for the Bidens to be investigated last summer. The president himself also denied telling Bolton that the aid was tied to investigations, suggesting that the claim by his former adviser was to “sell a book.”

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As at least a few Republicans appear to be warming to the calls to allow witnesses, Markey is calling on more to do the same.

“I think this Bolton revelation really is going to challenge them to meet their constitutional responsibilities in a way that they haven’t felt thus far in the trial,” he said.

Markey spoke to Boston.com about the latest developments, his view of the defense team’s arguments, and how he gets through the “marathon” impeachment trial sessions. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Boston.com: What has it been like to be in these impeachment sessions?

It’s been riveting. It’s history. It’s a great responsibility as a juror in the trial of the president of the United States. And because I have a front row seat, I can see how much the Republicans have been in denial about the responsibility to provide witnesses and documents.

And today, I think that this Bolton bombshell really challenged them to provide Bolton as a witness, at a minimum, at the trial. And so I’m now waiting for what the Republican response is going to be. Senator Romney has now said that he wants to hear from Bolton.

I don’t think the Republicans have anywhere to hide on his. I think Bolton must be called as a witness, and we should have access to his notes and other relevant documents, because Bolton has directly relevant information to provide.

What did you make of the details that came out in the report last night?

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Bolton is confirming what House managers are presenting, and he is directly contradicting the heart of Trump’s defense.

You were obviously very critical of Bolton’s appointment as National Security Advisor and Trump has suggested that he’s just trying to boost sales for his book. Why should we trust what he’s saying?

I don’t support Bolton’s political philosophy. But that is completely different from whether or not he has relevant information because of his firsthand conversations with Trump with regard to this attempt to extort an investigation into the Bidens for $391 million.

He’s now speaking as a firsthand participant in conversations with the president. So let’s hear from Bolton. Let’s subject him to examination. And let’s test this evidence.

His policies are not at question here. It’s his firsthand knowledge about the charges against the president that are being debated.

Have you spoken to any Republican colleagues about this?

Since this broke last night, no. I flew back — I flew up to Boston, worked all day yesterday, and got back here around midnight last night. So I haven’t had a chance.

Has there been anything you’ve learned since the beginning of the Senate trial?

My observation is that Trump’s legal team has started building a defense, but it’s made of soundbites and misinformation and alternative facts. Their goal is simple. It’s to distract and distort and deny. But thus far, they have not answered the charges that were made by the House managers in the blistering, scalding indictment, which the House managers laid out last week.

Do you think those arguments will make a difference. It seems like a lot of people have made up their minds about which way they’ll vote.

Well, this Bolton bombshell is sending political shrapnel toward the Republican Party, and I think that it can be a difference maker if four Republicans are willing to accept the damage that will be done to their party and to the Constitution if they don’t stand up.

I’m hopeful but still not optimistic that they will stand up. But I think this Bolton revelation really is going to challenge them to meet their constitutional responsibilities in a way that they haven’t felt thus far in the trial.

What do you think that damage would be if they don’t?

I think the Bolton testimony has the potential to really make it clear that this is not about overturning one election, which is what Trump’s lawyers argue, but this is about safeguarding every election from a president who is actively colluding with a foreign government to change the course of an American presidential election.

There’s going to be much clearer evidence, because of Bolton, that Trump was conspiring to undermine Joe Biden in order to secure his own re-election. Trump had to choose between our national security and his own political re-election — and he chose himself.

On a somewhat lighter note, do you have any strategies or advice for getting through these 10-hour sessions?

I just keep drinking my water and during the breaks I try to walk around, and just prepare for another marathon sitting session. But there really isn’t much that’s needed to keep my energy level high, because this trial is historic.

We don’t have any devices that can distract us, so I actually find this about as energizing an experience as imaginable, because of the consequences of this trial. And because my father was a milkman, I’m also glad to know that, up in heaven, he knows that milk can be served on the Senate floor. [laughs]

Keeping him in business. That’s good. But also I imagine not having any phones or devices is probably helpful.

There’s actually a liberating quality to not having a device that is buzzing all day long.

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