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Trump Impeachment Live: President’s Defense Attacks Biden and Declines to Mention Bolton
The defense began its promised assault on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter, on Monday, describing what they said was significant evidence of corruption that made Mr. Trump’s interest in the case proper. Pam Bondi, one of the president’s lawyers, accused Democrats of denying the legitimacy of investigations into the Bidens because the House case depends on the premise that Mr. Trump was only interested in the negative political impact on his rival.
Republicans are angrily pressing the White House in private about the revelations from a manuscript by John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, that said Mr. Trump wanted to continue freezing security aid to Ukraine until he got help with investigations into Democrats. They said they were blindsided by the former adviser’s account — especially because the administration has had a copy of it since Dec. 30.
John R. Bolton appears set to publish his book about his time as President Trump’s former national security adviser in less than two months, according to a listing on Amazon that appeared late Sunday night.
The New York Times reported Sunday on a draft manuscript for Mr. Bolton’s book in which he says that the president told him that he wanted to continue withholding security aid for Ukraine until the country’s top officials announced investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr, and his son, Hunter. (Mr. Trump has denied the account.)
Mr. Bolton’s book, titled “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir,” promises “a substantive and factual account of his time in the room where it happened,” a play on one of the song titles from the popular musical “Hamilton.”
The book’s title appears in an oval on the cover, a hint of the room it refers to. The listing is taking pre-orders and says it will be released on March 17.
Given the extraordinary control that the White House has maintained over testimony and the release of emails, text messages and other documents by top Trump administration aides, there has been little evidence in the public domain to back up John Bolton’s claims that top White House advisers repeatedly pressed President Trump this summer to release his hold on the military aid to Ukraine.
But concrete evidence has still emerged that this is what actually took place, particularly in late August, reporting by The New York Times has found.
Career employees at the State Department, the National Security Council and Defense Department held a series of interagency meetings in July to discuss the aid freeze, quickly reaching a consensus that it was against United States’ interest to hold back the money.
But they also concluded that the only way to get it lifted was for someone to make a direct appeal to Mr. Trump because it was a presidential-level decision.
Persuading Mr. Trump to change his mind became particularly urgent as of mid-August, when the Defense Department concluded that it was running out of time to spend all the $250 million in military assistance Congress allocated by the September 30 deadline — for items like sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other gear.
So as of mid-August, a series of interventions took place with Mr. Trump, involving John Bolton, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, participants in these meetings told The Times.
This included an Oval Office meeting in late August, attended by all three of these top White House advisers, where one at a time they tried to persuade Mr. Trump to lift the hold on the military aid.
Mr. Bolton argued the aid was in the country’s interest, according to one official briefed on the gathering.
Mr. Esper added that the United States had gotten some good benefits from their defense relationship, noting that most of the money was being spent on military equipment made in the United States.
Mr. Trump responded that he did not believe President Volodymyr Zelensky’s promises of reform. He emphasized his view that corruption remained endemic and repeated his position that European nations needed to do more for European defense.
The aid remained blocked. For more on the push back orchestrated by Mr. Bolton and Mr. Trump’s top aides, here is an article from in late December giving a detailed account of this effort.
Many Americans came to know John R. Bolton from his appearances on Fox News, where he was a featured commentator from 2007 to 2018. On Monday, though, the network’s hosts were treating their former colleague with a newfound skepticism.
The president “has got to do a better job hiring people,” Brian Kilmeade, a “Fox & Friends” host, said after summarizing the claims in Mr. Bolton’s leaked manuscript. “He’s got to do a better job vetting his staff, to find out if they actually want to work for him or not, or they actually want to leak out information about him.”
“There are a lot of snakes in the swamp,” Dan Bongino, a pro-Trump commentator, chimed in. And on Sunday, the Fox News host Steve Hilton said that Mr. Bolton’s claim “doesn’t change anything of substance.”
But Mr. Kilmeade did offer some supportive words on Monday, too, saying that Mr. Bolton, as a former colleague, “has always been upstanding and very candid, if nothing else.”
For years, John R. Bolton has been a conservative Republican stalwart: foreign policy hawk, ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, commentator on Fox News and national security adviser to President Trump.
On Monday, Mr. Bolton, who left Mr. Trump’s White House last summer, appeared on the verge of becoming a Republican pariah. Hours after The New York Times published details from his forthcoming book, in which he wrote that Mr. Trump told him he would not unfreeze military aid to Ukraine until that country investigated his political rivals, Mr. Bolton’s fellow Republicans began turning on him.
“Well, there’s a so-called blockbuster report in today’s New York Times — it’s a story about selective leaks from a book that you can pre-order on Amazon.com from John Bolton,” said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, appearing to suggest that Mr. Bolton is merely trying to sell books.
“The timing is a little interesting, isn’t it?” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, commented on Fox News.
Mr. Trump himself, who has denied Mr. Bolton’s account, circulated a derisive comment about the former national security adviser on Twitter, re-tweeting a message by Lou Dobbs, one of his favorite Fox News commentators, that slammed Mr. Bolton as a “Rejected Neocon.”
Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky — whose noninterventionist foreign policy views are in stark contrast with those of Mr. Bolton — questioned his credibility.
“You have an angry, disgruntled employee, and I think he’ll say anything,” Mr. Paul said.
Doug Stafford, Mr. Paul’s chief strategist, was even harsher.
“We told you not to hire neocon clown @AmbBolton,” he wrote in a tweet addressed to Mr. Trump. “NONE OF THE WARMONGERS ARE ON YOUR SIDE!”
“To support Ukraine is to support a rules-based international order that avoided war among major powers in Europe for seven decades,” he wrote, describing the many ways Russia attacks Ukraine and the West. “It is to support democracy over autocracy. It is to support freedom over unfreedom. Most Americans do.”
Mr. Taylor, who testified during the impeachment inquiry that the Trump administration waged a pressure campaign to get Ukraine to announce investigations into the president’s rivals, mostly steered clear of the impeachment case in his article. He said only that “no matter the outcome of the debate about the propriety of a phone call between the two presidents, the relationship between the United States and Ukraine is key to our national security.”
But Mr. Taylor’s rebuke of Mr. Pompeo is also a not-so-subtle reminder to the president and his Republican allies of the national security threat at the heart of the Democratic case: that by withholding security aid to gain political leverage, Mr. Trump made the country — and the Western world — less safe.
In the wake of weekend revelations from John R. Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser, Republican defenders of Mr. Trump are looking for any ammunition to undercut the Democratic argument in favor of calling new witnesses.
One example: a news conference from two decades ago by a current Democratic House manager arguing against the need for additional testimony.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, now the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was asked at a 1998 news conference whether Democrats defending then-President Bill Clinton from impeachment should support calling witnesses in the inquiry. Mr. Nadler said no.
“There are some people who think that we should ask to subpoena certain witnesses. My own personal opinion is that we shouldn’t,” Mr. Nadler told reporters. “My own personal opinion is that it’s the duty of those who want to impeach the president to make the case. They’ve got to call the witnesses who will establish the case. They haven’t done so.”
Republican senators have been arguing that Democrats in the House — not the Senate — were responsible for calling officials like him and others who were blocked by the president from testifying in the House inquiry. Now, as they look for ways to keep a handful of Republican moderates from jumping ship and voting with Democrats, they are hoping that comments, like the one from Mr. Nadler more than 20 years ago, might help.
Democrats don’t just want to hear from John R. Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser. They also want his notes — and getting them could help pave the way for other documents they have been demanding.
A report in The New York Times said that White House officials believe Mr. Bolton, who is writing a book, took notes that he should have left behind when he resigned his post. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House manager, seized on that detail Monday morning, saying the notes may be more important for the Senate than seeing a copy of the draft manuscript of Mr. Bolton’s book.
“Now we learned that John Bolton took detailed notes and presumably these are contemporaneous,” Mr. Schiff said on CNN’s “New Day” program. “These notes took place while the events were happening, while they were fresh in his mind. Those, in many respects, are more important than the manuscript. So we ought to not only have John Bolton testify, but we ought to see what he wrote down in his notes at the time.”
In addition to calling for additional witnesses, Democrats have said the Senate should subpoena emails, text messages and other documents that Mr. Trump’s administration refused to hand over during the House impeachment inquiry. The existence of Mr. Bolton’s notes could further pressure Republicans to agree to seek the documents.
John R. Bolton was President Trump’s national security adviser for a year and a half, but he has been a fixture in conservative politics for a generation, making it difficult for Republicans to merely dismiss him as a partisan with an ax to grind. There is no better evidence of the complications his potential testimony would create for Senate Republicans than the campaign checks he has written many of them.
Mr. Bolton’s political action committee, named after himself, has already cut $10,000 checks this election cycle to three Republican senators who will have a vote on whether to subpoena him in the trial: Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Mr. Gardner and Mr. Tillis are both facing tough re-election fights in swing states.
Mr. Bolton started the PAC in 2013 to advocate his interventionist foreign policy views, and it has given away more than $1 million.
Other Republican recipients currently in the Senate include Josh Hawley of Missouri, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a staunch ally of Mr. Trump, warned on Twitter on Monday that if the Senate voted to consider witnesses, Republicans would insist on calling people who Mr. Trump considers “relevant” to the case, a list that includes former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden.
The tweet was in essence a renewal of a threat that Republicans have been using for weeks to try and discourage Democrats for pushing for witnesses. But it also underscored how Sunday’s news about Mr. Bolton may have increased the likelihood that the Senate will vote to hear from witnesses.
Before The New York Times’s report about the contents of Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, it appeared that there would not be enough Republican support to call witnesses. Mr. Graham’s warning suggests that Republicans may be less confident now, and are intensifying their efforts to do what they can to avoid it.
Just four Republican senators would have to vote with Democrats to subpoena witnesses like Mr. Bolton and other top administration officials. Republican Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine have already indicated they would support calling witnesses, and Mr. Romney has said he wants to hear from Mr. Bolton in particular.
Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both of whom had previously signaled a potential openness to witnesses, more recently have suggested they might not vote to insist on them. But that was before the revelations about Mr. Bolton.
President Trump’s legal team’s second day of oral arguments in the Senate impeachment trial opens with fresh uncertainty on Monday, after The New York Times reported that the White House has for weeks had an unpublished manuscript by John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, asserting that Mr. Trump refused to release military assistance for Ukraine until the country gave him investigative information about his political rivals.
By Monday morning, several Republican senators had angrily called the White House trying to determine who at the administration knew about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which aides there have had for several weeks, and what was in it. They told the White House they felt blindsided, according to people briefed on the calls who insisted on anonymity to describe private discussions.
One reason for their ire is that Mr. Bolton’s account flies in the face of the rationale the president’s lawyers have offered the Senate for his actions, and which many Republicans have latched onto themselves as a defense of his conduct.
For several days, Mr. Trump’s legal team’s defense of his hold on $391 million in aid earmarked for Ukraine has been that he never linked the freeze to his desire for investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Specifically, his team has zeroed in on the testimony of Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, that he “presumed” the linkage, and that president cared more about an announcement than an actual investigation.
In the manuscript, Mr. Bolton writes that Mr. Trump told him in August that he didn’t want to free up the aid until Ukraine turned over Russia investigation materials related to Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s opponent in 2016, and Mr. Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination this year.
That undercuts the claim by the deputy White House counsel, Michael Purpura, made in the well of the Senate on Saturday, that “not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance and a presidential meeting or anything else.”
While Mr. Bolton never testified, he has said he will testify if he receives a subpoena.
John Ullyot, a spokesman for the National Security Council, issued a carefully worded statement on Monday morning, 16 hours after the Times story was published.
“Ambassador Bolton’s manuscript was submitted to the N.S.C. for pre-publication review and has been under initial review by the N.S.C.,” he said. “No White House personnel outside N.S.C. have reviewed the manuscript.”
“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” President Trump wrote just after midnight, referring to a widely debunked theory that the president had pursued about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter.
In an unpublished manuscript of his upcoming book, Mr. Bolton described the White House decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine until he left the White House in September. As national security adviser, Mr. Bolton would have been involved in many of the high-level discussions about Ukraine.
Senators will decide, probably by the end of the week, whether to call witnesses like Mr. Bolton. Until now, Mr. Trump seemed assured not only of acquittal but appeared likely to fend off the testimony of any more witnesses.
When Mr. Trump’s lawyers address the Senate Monday afternoon, they will face the challenge of explaining how his own former top aide says the president did exactly what they say he did not do — or trying to ignore it altogether.
The White House legal team will resume its opening arguments at 1 p.m. at the impeachment trial on Monday in dramatically new circumstances, with calls intensifying for the Senate to hear from witnesses after new revelations surfaced from John R. Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser.
The Times reported on Sunday that in drafts of an unpublished manuscript, Mr. Bolton recounts a conversation with the president in August in which Mr. Trump said he preferred not to unfreeze $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine unless officials there helped with investigations he sought into Democrats. That account directly contradicts two key components of the president’s impeachment defense: that the decision to freeze the aid was independent from his requests that Ukraine announce politically motivated investigations, and that Democrats had only “presumption” and hearsay to prove otherwise.
House Democratic managers said in a statement on Sunday night that “there can be no doubt now” that Mr. Bolton must be called as a witness. But the few Republicans who have indicated an openness to hearing from witnesses, such as Senator Susan Collins of Maine, had yet to respond to reports of the book. By Monday morning, some Republican senators had contacted the White House to inquire about who had visibility into the manuscript as the Senate trial unfolded a week earlier.
Mr. Trump pushed back on Mr. Bolton’s claims early Monday morning on Twitter, saying that his former adviser “never complained about this at the time of his very public termination,” and that Mr. Bolton was looking to sell books.
“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Mr. Trump wrote just after midnight.
The White House lawyers will open their first extended day of arguments in the trial at 1 p.m., when they will expand on points they introduced in a brief two-hour session on Saturday. They have around 22 hours of time allotted to them on Monday and Tuesday to counter the House Democratic managers, but are not expected to use all of it.