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WASHINGTON Sen. Ted Cruz was once such a big fan of John Bolton that he pushed for President Trump to hire him as his national security adviser. He promised in his own 2016 presidential run that if elected, hed pick someone like John Bolton as his secretary of state. When Trump and Bolton acrimoniously parted ways, Cruz openly fretted the deep state had ousted his friend.
Would he stand by Bolton now that he could be a damning witness in Trumps Senate impeachment trial?
Well, let me first of all say I think this afternoon was devastating to House managers case, the Texas Republican said Monday night when asked by VICE News if Trumps national security adviser was honest and trustworthy. He twice dodged follow-up questions about whether he trusted his old ally to tell the truth, since his forthcoming book undercuts core parts of Trump’s defense.
Trump is on the warpath against his former national security adviser as the impeachment trial proceeds toward a vote on whether to hear from witnesses. And his most sycophantic Senate backers are echoing his attacks that Bolton is a disgruntled ex-employee only interested in selling books while others in the GOP refuse to defend their old ally.
A wave of blistering criticism from many Republicans and stony silence from Boltons onetime allies is the latest example of what happens to Republicans who cross the president. It doesnt matter your policy views. It doesnt matter what youve done for the country, or for the party. It doesnt matter who your friends and allies are. If you dare criticize Trump, youre in it.
For those of us who are Republican foreign policy conservatives, John is in the pantheon of our heroes, said former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). But in a world when the president absolutely commands the Republican Party, in a presidential election year, I understand people siding against John. People oftentimes will side with party over patriotism in an election year.
As Cruz and other longtime Bolton allies refused to come to Boltons defense, their colleagues attacked.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) dismissed this weeks bombshell report that Boltons new book says Trump told him directly of a quid pro quo with Ukraine as a story about selected leaks from a book you can preorder on Amazon.com from John Bolton. When asked if Bolton was honest, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) called him irascible.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who took $5,000 in donations from Boltons PAC in his last Senate race, lumped Bolton in with indicted former Trump crony Lev Parnas.
Their allegations would be more credible coming from other people, he said. They both have reasons to be angry at the president.
The Republican National Committee blasted out an email with the subject line Thats one way to boost book sales. Even Boltons longtime friend and former two-time chief of staff, Fled Fleitz, wrote an op-ed calling for him to retract his book manuscript.
Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations for President George W. Bush, was until last fall Trumps national security adviser. Hes been a leading voice for saber-rattling conservatives for two decades and is an eminence grise for the neoconservative wing of the GOP. Hes raised and donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates including a combined $275,000 to 29 of the 53 Republicans currently in office. And his alliances with many of the Senates more hawkish Republicans ran far deeper. But all that means nothing in an era where fealty to Trump is the only coin of the realm for Republicans.
The president himself was quick to try to discredit his former national security adviser. Trump tweeted that Boltons alleged claims were only to sell a book, while tweaking Bolton for his very public firing (Trump insists he fired Bolton, while Bolton says he quit).
I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book. With that being said, the…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020
Hes followed up with a string of furious attacks against Bolton.
Bolton is no saint. Hes got a long, controversial foreign policy track record, and decades of fear-mongering politics at home. Hes widely known for being arrogant and short-tempered. He left the White House after clashing with the president. While more than a dozen other public officials risked the wrath of Trump (and legal threats) to testify in the Houses impeachment inquiry, Bolton hid behind his lawyers.
Hes only now recently come forward to say hed testify if subpoenaed now that the process has moved toin the GOP-controlled Senate. He even called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who he has donated to in the past, to let him know before he made that announcement public. Republicans arent wrong when they point out he has a book coming out that he undoubtedly hopes will sell well. And its still unclear what hell say if put on the stand.
But the level of GOP vitriol for their one-time ally is notable.
Many other Republicans ducked and covered. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a foreign policy hawk who called Bolton an excellent choice to be national security adviser and has received multiple Bolton PAC donations, twice no-commented when asked if he trusted his one-time close ally. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), another recipient of a max-out check, refused to respond to questions about Bolton.
Just about the only Republicans who had anything nice to say were Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WIs.), who features in Boltons book Personally I believe John Bolton will tell the truth, he told VICE News and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the few Republicans whos said he wants to hear from Bolton in trial.
But Romney, the GOPs former presidential nominee, has become a persona non grata for many in the party so much so that new Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), whos facing a primary from the right, dunked on Romney to shore up her right flank:
After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on! #gapol
— Senator Kelly Loeffler (@SenatorLoeffler) January 27, 2020
Even those who still call Bolton a friend werent willing to defend him.
You got to keep in mind, for the first time in his life, he was fired. That does have an effect on people, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told VICE News.
In a subsequent conversation, Inhofe said he wouldnt say anything disparaging about Bolton because hes been a good friend for a long time but said he was disappointed in the position hes taken.
When Trump picked Bolton, their common ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he could not have made a better choice in terms of having a reliable, seasoned, national security confidante.
So does he trust Bolton now?
I dont know if I trust anybody right now, he told VICE News.
— Matt Laslo contributed to this report.