What John Bolton says about U.S. aid withheld from Ukraine

President Trump wanted a freeze on U.S. military assistance to Ukraine until it launched investigations into the Bidens, writes John Bolton.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
In July 31, 2019, then National security adviser John Bolton speaks to media at the White House in Washington. Mr. Bolton now says he's "prepared to testify" in Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed.

Updated: 7 a.m. Monday

President Donald Trump told his national security adviser he wanted to maintain a freeze on military assistance to Ukraine until it launched political investigations into his Democratic rivals, according to a report in The New York Times on Sunday.

The newspaper said John Bolton's description of his exchange with Mr. Trump appears in drafts of his forthcoming book. The revelation challenges the defense offered up by Mr. Trump and his attorneys in his Senate impeachment trial and raises the stakes as the chamber decided this week whether to seek sworn testimony from Mr. Bolton and other witnesses.

Mr. Trump denied the claims in a series of tweets early Monday. “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens," the president said in a tweet. "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.” Mr. Trump said people could look at transcripts of his call and statements by Ukraine President Vlodymyr Zelinskiy that there was no pressure for such investigations to get the aid.

Mr. Bolton, who acrimoniously left the White House a day before President Trump ultimately released the Ukraine aid on Sept. 11, has already told lawmakers that he is willing to testify, despite the president's order barring aides from cooperating in the probe.

Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has played a prominent role in the Ukraine affair, replied to a request for comment with a text: “I used to like and respect [Mr. Bolton] and tell people they were wrong about how irresponsible he was. I was wrong.”

Democrats need at least four Republicans to vote with them to seek witness testimony. Those prospects looked unlikely in recent days and it's unclear if the new revelations about Mr. Bolton's book will sway any GOP senators.

Democrats quickly sought to ramp up the pressure on their Republican counterparts.

“John Bolton has the evidence,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “It’s up to four Senate Republicans to ensure that John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and the others with direct knowledge of President Trump’s actions testify in the Senate trial.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no immediate comment, according to his office.

The New York Times story was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript on the condition of anonymity to discuss the book, “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir," ahead of its release March 17. 

A person familiar with the matter told the AP the book had been submitted to the White House for pre-publication review, which is standard for the work of former officials with security clearances. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject.

The book's publisher, Simon & Schuster, declined to comment.

Sarah Tinsley, an adviser to Mr. Bolton, said: “The ambassador's manuscript was transmitted to the White House in hard copy several weeks ago for pre-publication review by the NSC. The ambassador has not passed the draft manuscript to anyone else. Period.”

Bolton attorney Charles J. Cooper said in a statement that the pre-publication review process had been “corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript.”

Democrats accuse President Trump of abuse of power in withholding the military assistance to Ukraine to push that country to mount investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company, Burisma, while his father was in office.

On Saturday, the president's attorneys said during their opening day of defense arguments that there was no evidence that Mr. Trump made the military aid contingent on the country announcing an investigation into Mr. Biden.

The Times also reported that Mr. Bolton says he told Attorney General William Barr that he was mentioned by Mr. Trump on his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. A Justice Department official on Sunday disputed Mr. Bolton’s account that he had told Mr. Barr about the president’s call with Mr. Zelenskiy but did say that Mr. Bolton had called Mr. Barr to raise concerns about Mr. Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy efforts.

President Trump on Wednesday told reporters in Davos, Switzerland, that he didn't want Mr. Bolton to testify before the Senate.

“The problem with [Mr. Bolton] is it’s a national security problem," Mr. Trump said. “He knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive and then I have to deal on behalf of the country?”

He added: “It's going to be very hard. It's going to make the job very hard.”

A Pivotal Week

President Trump's impeachment trial enters a pivotal week as his defense team resumes its case and senators face a critical vote on whether to hear witnesses – such as Mr. Bolton – or proceed directly to a vote that is widely expected to end in his acquittal. The articles of impeachment charge Mr. Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The Capitol Hill maneuvering will be complemented by high-stakes efforts on both sides of the aisle to claim political advantage from the proceedings as the presidential nominating season kicks off in Iowa on Feb. 3.

What to watch as the Senate impeachment trial resumes Monday at 1 p.m. EST:

A Star Turn in Defense

After a two-hour opening argument Saturday, Mr. Trump's defense team will lay out its case in depth beginning Monday. White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Mr. Trump's lawyers don't expect to take the full 24 hours allotted to them, but there will be arguments from some familiar faces.

Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, former independent counsel Ken Starr, and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will speak on specific topics.

Mr. Dershowitz said Sunday he would argue that the charges against Mr. Trump are too minor to warrant the president's removal from office under the Constitution. “Even if true, they did not allege impeachable offenses," Mr. Dershowitz told "Fox News Sunday."

The Trump team has also teased the notion that it would draw attention to Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company Burisma, while the elder Biden was vice president. An extended focus on Joe Biden, one of the leading Democratic presidential contenders, could mean blowback from even some of the GOP members of the Senate.

The Question Time

Once Mr. Trump's team concludes, senators will have 16 hours to ask questions of both the House impeachment prosecutors and the president's legal team. Their questions must be in writing.

Chief Justice John Roberts will read the questions aloud. He is expected to alternate between both sides of the aisle. Many senators have been taking copious notes throughout the trial in preparation for the question-and-answer time.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming told reporters Saturday that Republicans are expected to get together on Monday to start formulating a list of questions. “We will meet as a conference and decide what questions we want to pose, what the order may be of those of those questions,” he said.

Will they or Won't They?

Under the Senate rules passed last week, senators will get another chance to vote whether to consider new witnesses and evidence after the Q&A time is elapsed. Four Republicans would have to break ranks to join Democrats in the GOP-controlled Senate to extend the trial for an undetermined amount of time.

If that happens, expect a bitter fight over which witnesses might be called and which documents might be subpoenaed. Democrats have called for testimony from Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, and his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. An attempt to call either probably would lead to a showdown with the White House, which claims both men have “absolute immunity" from being called to testify before the Senate, even in an impeachment trial. Still, Mr. Bolton has said he would appear if issued a subpoena by the Senate.

While Republicans have hoped for a speedy trial, President Trump has called for the testimony of the Bidens and the intelligence community whistleblower whose summer complaint about Mr. Trump's July telephone call with Ukraine's leader instigated the impeachment inquiry.

But some Republicans, including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina have expressed resistance to calling those witnesses.

If the vote fails, the Senate could move swiftly to its vote on whether to remove or acquit Trump, giving the president the result he's been looking for as soon as the end of the week.

Senate rules also call for four hours of deliberations before voting. Since senators are required to sit silently during the trial, expect a closed session where they can deliberate in private.

A New Tape

Mr. Trump's lawyers argued Saturday that no one knows what Mr. Trump's motives were on holding up military assistance to Ukraine. A recording obtained by The Associated Press hours later suggests the president well understood that assistance was a point of leverage over Ukraine.

The recording is of a 2018 meeting at the Trump Hotel in Washington that Mr. Trump had with donors. including two now-indicted associates of his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. The audio portion includes Mr. Trump inquiring about Ukraine, “How long would they last in a fight with Russia?” He later calls for the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

The recording contradicts the president’s statements that he didn't know the Giuliani associations, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. They are key figures in the investigation who were indicted last year on campaign finance charges.

If new evidence and witnesses are allowed, the recording could take center stage in the Senate proceedings.

The 2020 Presidential Campaign

The trial is resuming with one week to go until the Iowa caucuses, and is again keeping four Democratic contenders – Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bennet, and Amy Klobuchar – in Washington instead of campaigning at a critical point in the race.

While they are trapped in Washington, Mr. Trump will venture outside the capital as he seeks both to exert political retribution on Democrats who impeached him and reward a party-switching lawmaker who backed him in the House.

Mr. Trump will hold a rally Tuesday in New Jersey to repay the favor to Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who became a Republican last month after voting against the articles of impeachment as a Democrat. Mr. Trump is set to appear in Iowa on Thursday, days before the caucuses.

Meanwhile, President Trump is already looking ahead to his likely acquittal, whenever it may come, promising that Democrats will face consequences for trying to remove him from office. “Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man,” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday. “He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Mr. Schiff is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the lead impeachment manager. Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press'' whether he viewed the tweet as a threat, Mr. Schiff replied, "I think it's intended to be.''

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers Lisa Mascaro, Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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