WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser reportedly wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that Trump withheld military aid from a key ally, Ukraine, until he got guarantees that the country would investigate his political rivals, the Biden family.
The substance of that information, revealed Sunday in the New York Times, isn’t new — it’s one of the reasons the House voted to impeach the president. But the messenger is new, and significant.
Bolton, who has worked for presidential administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan’s, is highly regarded in conservative policymaking circles. Bolton’s recollections completely cut against Trump’s main defense: That withholding the aid had nothing to do with his desire for an investigation into the Biden family. He’s also the first to say he heard that directly from Trump, undercutting a major defense argument.
Bolton’s revelation will reignite the argument over whether Senate Republicans will agree to call witnesses during the impeachment trial. Bolton was offered the chance to testify to the House — he declined, despite Trump lying and saying the House didn’t ask him to appear — saying he would only testify if subpoenaed. House Democrats did not ultimately subpoena him.
The question is if Bolton’s account is enough to move some Republican senators to vote in favor of calling witnesses. Already, far-right conservative figures are saying Bolton isn’t credible and withheld the revelation just to promote his upcoming book.
Amid this, Trump’s lawyers are continuing to make their defense on Monday.
Trump was charged with the two articles of impeachment in the House for his decision to withhold vital military aid from the country while pressuring it to investigate his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden.
Trump’s legal team, led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and the president’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, began their opening arguments Saturday, focusing their attacks on House Democrats and the impeachment process and citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukraine hacked the 2016 election (as the intelligence community has concluded, it was Russia).
Monday is the second of three days the president’s team has to make their case. In total, they’ll have 24 hours to argue before the Senate, but they’ve said repeatedly they don’t intend to use their full time to draw contrast with Democrats (who argued for nearly 23 hours over three days) and appease tired senators.
Ken Starr, who led the investigation into former president Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment, also joined Cipollone and Sekulow in arguing on Trump’s behalf Monday.
Trump’s defense has so far argued that the president did not condition the military aid to Ukraine on his desire for the investigations into the Bidens, though multiple witnesses in the House investigation have said that link was clear.
Trump’s defense has also emphasized that the military aid to Ukraine was eventually released, in September, though that was after a whistleblower had filed a complaint about Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky where Trump directly asked for the investigations. After the call, some federal officials had raised questions about the legality of continuing to withhold the aid.
Trump’s defense on Saturday focused heavily on an argument that House Democrats had withheld evidence from senators — though the House literally sent carts worth of testimony and other documents to the Senate when it wrapped up its own case. Trump’s lawyers argued that Democrats ignored some testimony that was helpful to the president, while themselves ignoring testimony that was not helpful to Trump.
When the defense finishes its case, as late as Tuesday evening, the Senate will then enter a 16-hour period in which senators can submit handwritten questions to both legal teams. After that, senators will take up an issue that has loomed large over the trial: whether they will call any witnesses to give testimony.
Democrats have pushed hard for witnesses, while the majority of Republicans have argued it is unnecessary. Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney both voted against calling witnesses (along with all Republicans) earlier in the trial but have suggested that they are likely to vote in favor of witnesses later this week.
In addition to Bolton, Democrats have discussed calling acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to testify. Mulvaney was allegedly deeply involved in the scheme to withhold the Ukraine aid. He acknowledged the link between those actions in a bizarre White House press conference in October, calling it “absolutely appropriate,” but later tried to walk back those comments.
Other new evidence has emerged as the trial has gone on. On Saturday, Lev Parnas — one of two indicted allies of Rudy Giuliani — released a tape, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, of Trump explicitly telling him and others to “get rid of” the then-US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Giuliani and Parnas have said that Yovanovitch, who testified in the House’s impeachment inquiry, was an obstacle to their campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and had campaigned to remove her. Additionally, both Ukraine and the US are now investigating whether Yovanovitch was under surveillance by Giuliani associates at the time. She was ultimately recalled from her post in Kyiv and told that the president had wanted her out.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.