Kurt Bardella Trump's post-impeachment strategy for Ukraine and Bolton borrows from familiar playbook

In the weeks and months ahead, don't be surprised if even more information about Trumpian misdeeds comes to light.
Image: John Bolton
Former national security adviser John Bolton may not be the only source Trump has to worry about. Oliver Contreras / The Washington Post via Getty Images file
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By Kurt Bardella, NBC News THINK contributor

While the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump is almost certainly headed for an abrupt conclusion on Wednesday, new details and facts about Trump's conduct continue to surface. As we prepare to transition into the post-impeachment chapter of the Trump presidency, with 10 months to go before Election Day, the question now becomes how will Team Trump navigate details that may come to light in John Bolton's coming book, scheduled for release in just a few weeks.

As we prepare to transition into the post-impeachment chapter of the Trump presidency, the question becomes how will Team Trump navigate details that may come to light in John Bolton's coming book.

Ten or 20 years ago, a tell-all book from a sitting president's former national security adviser implicating that president and his closest advisers in a plot to withhold foreign aid in exchange for political favors would have represented an existential threat to the administration. Not so for Trump's White House.

Even so, Bolton isn't the only source Trump has to worry about. There are rumors that the anonymous official who published a best-selling book about the inner-workings of the administration could reveal his or her identity before the November election.The official warned that "other people who are currently serving, and who have left, are also considering adding their voices before votes are cast in 2020." And the House's various committees are unlikely to stop investigating the president and his Cabinet, either. (Nor should they.)

The reality is that no matter who comes forward, they will be met with hostility and merciless attacks by Trump's team. It is a pattern we have seen time and again. There are three central tenets to every Trump defense: attack the media outlet or reporter who produced the story, label the source of the story a former disgruntled employee, activate a propaganda campaign to cast the person as a traitor who is selling out the president for some ulterior motive or financial gain.

It's a familiar cycle.

Trump hires someone and heaps on lavish praise while congratulating himself on making such a brilliant personnel acquisition. Then the relationship deteriorates and Trump publicly attacks said hire, questioning why the person was ever brought on in the first place.

Think about how often we've seen this sequence play out the last three years.

Jeff Sessions had a "world-class legal mind" and was "greatly admired by legal scholars" when Trump appointed him to be his first attorney general. Throughout Sessions' tenure, Trump would attack him on Twitter, calling him, among many things, "scared stiff" and "Missing in Action."

Trump appointed his top campaign adviser, Steve Bannon, to a chief strategist role. A year later, the president was on Twitter labeling his former right-hand man as "Sloppy Steve" and suggesting he had "lost his mind."

When Rex Tillerson was nominated for secretary of state, Trump released a statement saying "his tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitical politics make him an excellent choice of Secretary of State." By the time Tillerson's tenure had come to an end, Trump was tweeting that he was "dumb as a rock."

Former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen is perhaps the most instructive example of the playbook's velocity and ruthlessness. In April 2018, the president attacked New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, calling her a "Crooked H flunkie" who was trying to "destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me." Trump designated Cohen as someone he had "always liked & respected." A few months later, the narrative shifted. Trump's new favorite surrogate, Rudy Giuliani, was on national TV calling Cohen a "pathological liar." Trump was accusing Cohen of "trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam."

Which brings us to John Bolton, who, just a few weeks ago, was regarded as a conservative icon. Now, he's a "backstabber." This is the same John Bolton whom Trump tapped to be national security adviser in large part because of what Fox News talent said about him on air. Now, that same talent is laughably labeling the neo-conservative a "tool for the left" while the president mocks him on Twitter.

At this point, Trump rightfully believes he can do anything and get away with it. Impeachment has revealed the stranglehold he has on the Republican Party. It has passed the point of no return. Most of the constitutional safeguards, including impeachment, have failed. The only one that remains is the ballot box. But in the weeks and months ahead, don't be surprised if even more information about Trumpian misdeeds comes to light. And for better or for worse, we know exactly how he's going to handle it.