Former national security adviser John Bolton says Trump directly confirmed a Ukraine quid pro quo in a conversation last year

ssheth@businessinsider.com (Sonam Sheth,Grace Panetta)

 

  • The New York Times on Sunday reported that the former national security adviser John Bolton had implicated President Donald Trump in an explicit quid pro quo related to Ukrainian military aid.
  • The Times cited an unpublished manuscript of Bolton's coming book as indicating that Trump told Bolton in August that Trump would withhold military aid from Ukraine until it acceded to Trump's demands for politically motivated investigations.
  • The president is on trial in the Senate after he was impeached last month on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over accusations he tried to solicit Ukraine's interference in the 2020 election.
  • Bolton announced earlier this month that he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed in Trump's Senate trial. He is a key figure in several episodes under scrutiny, and The Times' reporting indicates he could have significant new information about Trump's pressure campaign.
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The former US national security adviser John Bolton says in his new book that President Donald Trump directly told him of plans to withhold military aid to Ukraine until that country's president agreed to deliver politically motivated investigations targeting Trump's rivals, according to a Sunday report in The New York Times, which cited an unpublished manuscript of Bolton's book.

Bolton reportedly said Trump asked the Office of Management and Budget last year to continue a nearly monthlong hold on $391 million in military aid to Ukraine. The Times cited multiple sources as describing Bolton's account.

The president is facing a Senate trial after he was impeached last month on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Both charges are related to his efforts to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and a discredited conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

The Times' reporting underscores how dangerous Bolton could be should he testify against Trump in the trial. The former national security adviser announced earlier this month that he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed, but Senate Republicans have so far resisted Democratic calls to have new witnesses testify.

It's also been reported that Senate Republicans are drawing up contingency plans that would require any testimony by Bolton to happen behind closed doors. For Bolton to testify, a simple majority — 51 senators — would need to vote to call new witnesses. The Senate currently has 45 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 53 Republicans, meaning four Republican senators would have to break from their party.

Trump said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week that Bolton testifying could be a "national security problem."

"He knows some of my thoughts," Trump said on Thursday. "He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals how I feel about another leader and it's not positive? ... It would make the job a lot harder."

The Times reported that Bolton had given the draft of his book to some friends and to the White House as a part of a standard review process for former officials.

After The Times published its story on the manuscript, Bolton's lawyer released a statement saying he did not believe any part of the manuscript was classified and accusing the White House of leaking the information to The Times, saying "the prepublication review process has been corrupted."

In a series of tweets posted hours after the report, Trump flatly denied the claim.

"I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens," Trump wrote in one of three defiant tweets. "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."

Bolton's book, titled "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir," is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster on March 17.

While the votes to call witnesses are not guaranteed, the explosive revelations in Bolton's book seem to be changing the calculus. In the wake of The Times' story, a senior Republican official told The Washington Post that "the odds of deposition for new witnesses is certainly rising dramatically."

On Sunday night, the seven House managers, who act as prosecutors in the trial, released a statement saying, "There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the President's defense and therefore must be called as a witness at the impeachment trial of President Trump."

As the former national security adviser, Bolton would be the highest-profile witness to testify at Trump's trial and one who held frequent meetings with him.

  • Bolton attended a July 10 White House policy meeting between senior US and Ukrainian officials. According to testimony from the House impeachment inquiry, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, hijacked the meeting when he told the Ukrainians that Trump wanted a "deliverable" — specifically, politically motivated investigations — in exchange for a White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
    • Bolton cut the meeting short at that point and informed Fiona Hill, who at the time was the National Security Council's senior director in charge of Russian and Eurasian affairs, to "tell the lawyers" what had happened.
    • Hill said in her testimony that Bolton ordered her to tell John Eisenberg, the NSC's chief counsel, that he was not part of "whatever drug deal" Sondland and Mulvaney were "cooking up" in Ukraine.
  • Bolton was staunchly opposed to Trump making the infamous July 25 phone call to Zelensky.
    • Hill and other witnesses testified that Bolton was against the phone call because he feared the president would use it to air his personal grievances to Zelensky, which is exactly what ended up happening.
  • The former national security adviser described Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer who spearheaded what witnesses have said was the "irregular channel" of foreign policy in Ukraine, as a "hand grenade." Bolton was also opposed to the smear campaign Giuliani and Trump carried out against Marie Yovanovitch, the US's ambassador to Ukraine.
    • Asked why Bolton described Giuliani as a "hand grenade," Hill told Congress that the former New York mayor was "clearly pushing forward" issues that would "probably come back to haunt us," adding, "That's where we are today."
  • Bolton's lawyer, Chuck Cooper, dropped a tantalizing hint in a letter to Congress indicating that Bolton knows even more than what's already been revealed.
    • Bolton "was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far," Cooper wrote.
  • Bolton has receipts.
    • Current and former senior administration officials told the news website Axios in November that people in Trump's orbit were terrified of what Bolton may have documented and what he might divulge.
    • According to Axios' sources, Bolton is a prolific notetaker and most likely has more details than any witness in the impeachment inquiry so far about Trump's shadow campaign in Ukraine.
    • "Bolton was a voracious note-taker, in every meeting," one source who attended several meetings with the former national security adviser told Axios. Apparently, Axios reported, while others sat and listened in meetings with the president, Bolton "distinguished himself by filling legal pads with contemporaneous notes on what was said in the room."

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