Democrats ratcheted up their demands that former national security adviser John Bolton testify in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump after The New York Times published a report Sunday that said Trump told Bolton he wished to withhold military aid in order to pressure Ukraine into helping with politically motivated investigations.
In his upcoming book, Bolton writes that Trump directly and explicitly told him in August that he wished to withhold the $391 million in military aid to Ukraine that Congress had appropriated until officials there turned over documents related to the 2016 election and former vice president Joe Biden, the Times reported, citing people who had seen the manuscript.
Trump’s impeachment trial on articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress is centered on that withholding of aid and his refusal to allow current and former officials, such as Bolton, to testify in the impeachment inquiry.
The president has denied the charges and he repeated his denial in response to the Times report 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,” Trump tweeted. “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.”
Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has played a prominent role in the Ukraine affair, slammed Bolton on Twitter Monday in response to the report.
“There is no way in the world President Trump would say this to John Bolton,” Giuliani tweeted. “It’s a shame that a man will sacrifice his integrity to make a few bucks on a book. No wonder he accomplished so little as National Security Advisor.”
On Saturday, Trump’s legal team opened its defense of the president in the Senate trial. Bolton’s claim would appear to undercut two of their key arguments: that Trump’s order to delay the funds was not about the investigations and that no one has directly tied him to any such scheme.
“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,” the seven Democratic House impeachment managers said in a joint statement responding to the report.
During the House impeachment inquiry, Bolton said he would not appear as a witness unless directed to by a judge. But earlier this month, he said he was “prepared to testify” if the Senate issued him a subpoena.
The impeachment managers said the Senate should “insist” on Bolton being subpoenaed following the report, specifically to provide notes and documents.
“The Senate trial must seek the full truth and Mr. Bolton has vital information to provide. There is no defensible reason to wait until his book is published, when the information he has to offer is critical to the most important decision Senators must now make – whether to convict the President of impeachable offenses,” the statement reads.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to the report by calling on Senate Republicans to take action.
“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,” he added, referring to the number of Republicans needed to vote with Democrats to approve Senate subpoenas.
It is unclear whether enough Republicans would join with Democrats to call for more additional witnesses or documents, or how the Times report might influence their positions.
Prior to the report about Bolton’s upcoming book, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said on ABC News’ “This Week” that “the House did not do their homework” in the impeachment inquiry and fact-finding was “not really the task of the Senate.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. – who has made clear he thinks Trump should not have been impeached – told Fox News that he has already seen “more than enough to make my decision.”
“I am stunned to hear from the House managers that they want the Senate to call witnesses now they could have called before,” he said.
But other Republicans senators, including Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, have left open the possibility that they might vote for more witnesses.
Last week, Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he was concerned about Bolton testifying or making public statements because it could present a “national security problem.”
“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?”
Trump added that he and Bolton, who left the administration in September, did not part “on the best of terms” and implied that could influence what Bolton said.
In a statement, Bolton’s attorney Charles Cooper said the White House was given a copy of the manuscript to review on Dec. 30. Such a review is standard security practice for officials who write about their time in a presidential administration.
Cooper said the White House told him only those normally involved in the review process would see the manuscript. But the Times report showed “the review process corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript,” he said.
Sarah Tinsley, the director of Bolton’s political action committee, told AP that the manuscript had only been sent to the White House.
“The ambassador has not passed the draft manuscript to anyone else. Period,” she said.
Democrats said the fact that administration officials were aware of what Bolton says in the book and yet sought to block his testimony was evidence of a “cover-up.”
“During our impeachment inquiry, the president blocked our request for Mr. Bolton’s testimony. Now we see why,” the House impeachment managers said. “The president knows how devastating his testimony would be, and, according to the report, the White House has had a draft of his manuscript for review. President Trump’s cover-up must come to an end.”
“The @NYTimes report suggests multiple top Trump Admin officials knew the facts and deliberately misled Congress and the American people. A massive White House cover-up,” Schumer said.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Bart Jansen and Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY; The Associated Press