New Ukraine revelations hang over impeachment trial

By Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio

The House impeached President Donald Trump three weeks ago, but a gusher of evidence related to the case has continued to flow — threatening to intensify a scandal that has consumed the Trump presidency.

New witnesses are volunteering evidence that the House was unable to obtain in its three-month investigation, which resulted in charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress. And a series of lawsuits and disclosures has yielded new documents and emails that the Trump administration initially withheld. Even more releases are likely in the coming weeks, complicating an imminent Senate trial to determine whether Trump should be removed from office.

Democrats have said their impeachment case against Trump was overwhelming, but they also acknowledged their investigation was incomplete. The goal, they said, was to balance thoroughness with an urgent need to confront an ongoing threat to the 2020 election: Trump’s alleged solicitation of Ukraine’s assistance to damage his political rivals.

As a result, the case has continued to evolve even weeks after the House’s impeachment proceedings formally concluded.

Former national security adviser John Bolton’s surprise offer Monday to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial — after refusing the House’s request to appear late last year — was the exclamation point. But it was only the latest in a string of revelations and promises of new information.

Last week, a federal judge authorized Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to share documents and contents of a seized iPhone with House investigators. In recent days, documents emerged shedding new light on Trump’s order to temporarily withhold military aid from Ukraine.

And last month, House Democrats revealed that an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams, had submitted a classified supplement to her deposition, which the House Intelligence Committee is seeking permission to release publicly. Williams had previously called Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals “unusual and inappropriate.”

The new revelations in the Ukraine scandal present precarious political questions as House Democrats and Senate Republicans jockey for a strategic edge in the upcoming trial. But it also underscores that the case itself is evolving — and will likely continue to evolve — regardless of what happens in the Senate trial. That reality presents risks as new and potentially crucial evidence is layered on top of the House’s findings.

In a nod to that uncertainty, Senate Democrats have demanded that the trial include relevant testimony from witnesses — including Bolton and current senior White House officials — in addition to the production of documents that the State Department, Pentagon and White House budget office have refused to provide.

“What are you hiding, President Trump? What are you afraid of, President Trump? If you think that you’ve done nothing wrong, you wouldn’t mind having witnesses,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said this week.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is brushing aside such comments. The Kentucky Republican said Tuesday he has the necessary GOP votes to move forward with a trial governed by the parameters of the 1999 proceedings against Bill Clinton, in which the decisions about whether to call witnesses or procure documents were deferred until after opening arguments. McConnell and his allies have swiped at Democrats, contending their demand for new evidence is an indication that the House failed to build a persuasive argument for impeaching Trump.

“This just shows how desperate the Democrats are, and how poorly a job they did in the House in establishing a credible case,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyomin, a member of Senate GOP leadership, said in response to questions about whether Bolton should be called to testify. “They should have put the case together in the House. They had an opportunity to do it. And they didn’t.”

Indeed, the House impeached Trump without any of this evidence, arguing that the case was too urgent, and irrefutable, to wait. Trump, Democrats said, was threatening the integrity of the 2020 election, and the evidence they had already obtained was overwhelming. The House voted on Dec. 18 to impeach Trump, almost entirely along party lines.

The potential flood of new evidence has led some Senate Republicans to argue that the upper chamber should simply ignore it and only consider the House’s work product during the trial, whether the new evidence is damning or exculpatory. Republicans say Democrats’ self-imposed deadline to impeach Trump was arbitrary and that it is not the Senate’s job to plug holes in the House’s investigation.

“They could have taken any of these subpoenas to court. They could have spent the time, as they have in the past, to bring the witnesses forward,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said. “That’s the way the process works. That’s the way it needs to work.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) did not rule out the possibility of subpoenaing Bolton on Tuesday, but said the Senate trial was the most appropriate venue for his testimony.

“But McConnell is making it very plain he’s not interested in the country learning the full extent of the president’s misconduct,” Schiff lamented to reporters shortly after it became clear that the Senate Republican leader had the votes to move forward without Democratic support.

Through his lawyer, Bolton has teased new information that could affect the trajectory of the case against Trump. But the former national security adviser is also writing a book, and some lawmakers have speculated Bolton is just trying to boost his sales.

Several witnesses who testified before House investigators portrayed Bolton as a key figure in the Ukraine saga, including his push for Trump to release critical military aid to Kyiv. Trump ordered a freeze of the security assistance last summer, prompting a chaotic scramble among senior government officials who were uncomfortable with — and left in the dark about — the hold.

Bolton was also present for crucial White House meetings that were described in detail during the House’s investigative phase last year. He allegedly referred to efforts to pressure Ukraine’s leaders to investigate Trump’s political rivals as a “drug deal,” and dubbed Giuliani a “hand grenade.” The former New York mayor had urged Ukrainian officials to announce investigations targeting former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Meanwhile, the national security publication Just Security released emails last week revealing that senior Trump administration officials were concerned that the hold on military aid could be illegal. Democrats have asserted that Trump withheld the security assistance in order to further pressure Ukraine’s government to back his demands for investigations targeting the Bidens.

House impeachment witnesses described Parnas as a shady operative who helped smear former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as part of a Giuliani-led effort to persuade Ukrainian leaders to pursue those investigations. Parnas and his co-defendant Igor Fruman were indicted in October as part of a complex campaign finance scheme, and law enforcement officials seized Parnas’ iPhone and reams of personal documents.

But Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy has sought to cooperate with House investigators, and last week won the blessing of a judge to obtain the seized files and provide them to the House. Bondy confirmed Monday that he has begun the process of reviewing and sharing those files with lawmakers.

And Williams, who listened in on Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, provided lawmakers with details about a Sept. 18 call between Pence and Zelensky. But those details, which she delivered after her closed-door deposition in November, are classified, Democrats said, and so far Pence’s office has declined to declassify Williams’ supplemental testimony, disputing its relevance to the investigation.