One of the loudest voices emerging from House Democrats impeachment inquiry about President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey witness in impeachment investigation asks federal judge to rule on testifying Pompeo voices support for work of diplomat criticized by Trump Biden, Sanders defend themselves over questions of age MORE’s alleged abuse of power has come from a man who has yet to utter a word publicly about the probe: former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonKey witness in impeachment investigation asks federal judge to rule on testifying Bolton lawyers in contact with impeachment committee members: reports GOP lawmakers express concerns about Giuliani’s work in Ukraine MORE.
Testifying witnesses have placed Bolton at the center of some of the most explosive scenes related to questions of abuse of power by the president and officials he tasked with a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, described by one witness as an “irregular channel.”
This includes Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSenate Dems: Barr must recuse himself from Ukraine, Russia probe investigation White House official to corroborate diplomat’s version of Ukraine events: report Giuliani accidentally calls reporter, leaves voicemail about needing ‘a few hundred thousand’ dollars MORE, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryWhite House official to corroborate diplomat’s version of Ukraine events: report GOP lawmakers express concerns about Giuliani’s work in Ukraine Five takeaways from US envoy’s explosive testimony MORE and then-special envoy for Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerWhite House official to corroborate diplomat’s version of Ukraine events: report Five takeaways from US envoy’s explosive testimony Democrats say they have game changer on impeachment MORE.
In witness testimony, Bolton is presented as a key figure countering the efforts of those accused of pressuring a foreign government to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Trump.
Bolton could soon appear before House investigators soon; his lawyers are in talks with impeachment investigators about testifying behind closed doors. And while he is one of almost two dozen potential witnesses on investigators’ wish list, his testimony could prove to be the most damaging depending on where he comes down on the ideological spectrum.
Bolton is a staunch conservative who views the president’s powers as expansive and has defended preemptive military strikes. But it’s unclear whether any testimony from him would defend Trump’s actions as an extension of executive powers or if he would paint those actions as an abuse of power that’s damaging to the rule of law and order.
“He’s not a friendly guy, but he does know right from wrong,” one former colleague said of Bolton. “He’s been around the national security scene for a long time. He knows what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”
Bolton has so far made known he’s no personal friend of the president. His last public statement, posted on Twitter, was a swift rebuke of Trump’s characterization that he had “fired” Bolton.
“I offered to resign last night,” Bolton tweeted, “and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’’”
Shortly after leaving the White House, Bolton was described as disparaging the president at a private event in New York. Attendees recalled Bolton did not have “anything positive to say about Trump,” and criticized the president’s policy on Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.
He also called Trump’s plan to invite the Taliban to Camp David on the 9/11 anniversary “disrespectful.”
If he testifies, lawmakers are likely to ask Bolton if he has evidence, or reason to believe, the president acted in political self-interest at the expense of national security in pressuring Ukraine to open investigations into Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenKey witness in impeachment investigation asks federal judge to rule on testifying Pompeo voices support for work of diplomat criticized by Trump Biden, Sanders defend themselves over questions of age MORE, his son Hunter Biden, their involvement with the energy company Burisma Holdings and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Trump has maintained that raising those issues were part of a U.S. policy focused on weeding out corruption in Ukraine. But testimony in the impeachment inquiry paints a starkly different picture.
Chief of Mission to Ukraine William Taylor, who has provided some of the most detailed testimony in the probe, described key moments between many of the major players embroiled in the controversy and centered on the question of the decision to delay military assistance to Ukraine for the promise of going after one of Trump’s political opponents.
Taylor also raised the question of the involvement of Giuliani, who was allegedly directed by Trump to follow through on efforts to open investigations into the Bidens, Burisma and 2016 election interference.
Sondland, in his testimony, corroborated that the president had directed Giuliani to take on this mission, and investigators are working to understand the former New York City’s mayor efforts to influence White House foreign policy. Two of Giuliani’s associates were indicted for allegedly attempting to make political contributions on behalf of foreign governments without disclosing the source.
Former National Security Council (NSC) Director for European Affairs Fiona Hill testified that Bolton had called Giuliani a “hand grenade” and was going to “blow everything up.” Taylor corroborated those statements and offered his own assessment of the danger of jeopardizing Ukraine relations, calling it “folly.”
One of Bolton’s descriptions, according to testimony, likened it to a “drug deal.”
Bolton is regarded as extremely disciplined in his work ethic, having an almost photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of world affairs. Should he testify, he’s likely to provide detailed and even colorful testimony.
Investigators will be keen to understand Bolton’s motivation to direct NSC staff to alert White House lawyers after a July meeting between administration officials and Ukrainian representatives.
That meeting, described in testimony, has Sondland connecting a future Oval Office visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with “investigations” – referring to the conspiracy theories surrounding the Bidens and 2016 election interference.
Stay away from domestic politics, Bolton told NSC staffers, directing them to the lawyers, according to testimony. The account puts further emphasis on the argument that administration officials were using their positions to pressure a foreign government to disparage a domestic political opponent.
Sondland, in his testimony, said no one told him he was acting inappropriately. He said he realized there was a “difference of opinion” between the NSC staff and the track that he was pursuing with Perry and Volker.
“We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting,” Sondland testified, “and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.”
Lawmakers will also ask Bolton for more details about why military assistance to Ukraine was delayed.
Taylor has testified that even though he was aware of a hold on military assistance, he was never given an appropriate reason.
House investigators have sent out subpoenas for more witnesses, including Tim Morrison, who took over at the NSC after Hill’s departure; two officials from the Office of Management and Budget, likely questioned over instructions to withhold military aid to Ukraine; and State Department officials.
Bolton has yet to give any media interviews since leaving the White House but has reportedly signed a deal to publish a tell-all book, though a publication date has not been announced.