WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump directly tied the withholding of almost $400 million in U.S. security aid to investigations that he sought from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript of a book that John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, wrote about his time in the White House.
The firsthand account of the link between the aid and investigations, which is based on meetings and conversations Bolton had with Trump, undercuts a key component of the president’s impeachment defense: that the decision to freeze the aid was independent from his requests that Ukraine announce politically motivated investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
In their opening arguments Saturday in Trump’s trial, the president’s lawyers asserted that Trump had legitimate concerns about corruption in Ukraine and whether other countries were offering enough help for its war against Russian-backed separatists, which his lawyers said explained his reluctance to release the aid. They also said that Democrats had no direct evidence of the quid pro quo they allege at the heart of their impeachment case.
Multiple people described Bolton’s account. A draft of the manuscript, which offers a glimpse into how Bolton might testify in the trial if he were called to, was sent to the White House in recent weeks for a standard review process.
Here are five take-aways.
Trump tied his willingness to release aid to Ukraine on investigations he sought.
During a conversation in August with Trump, Bolton mentioned his concern over the delay of the $391 million in congressionally appropriated assistance to Ukraine as a deadline neared to send the money.
Trump replied that he preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation related to Biden and supporters of Hillary Clinton in Ukraine, referencing unfounded theories and other assertions that Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, had promoted about any Ukrainian efforts to damage Trump politically.
The president often hits at multiple opponents in his harangues, and he frequently lumps together the law enforcement officials who investigated his campaign’s ties to Russia with Democrats and other perceived enemies, as he appeared to do with Bolton.
Trump was at odds with his senior national security officials.
According to Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper joined him in pressing Trump to release the aid in the weeks leading up to the August meeting.
Trump repeatedly set aside their overtures by mentioning assorted grievances he had about Ukraine, some related to efforts by some Ukrainians who backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and others related to conspiracies and unsupported accusations about, among other things, a hacked server at the Democratic National Committee.
Bolton says he talked to Barr and Pompeo about Giuliani.
Bolton wrote that Pompeo privately acknowledged to him last spring that Giuliani’s claims about Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, had no basis, including allegations that she was bad-mouthing Trump. Pompeo suggested to Bolton that Giuliani may have wanted Yovanovitch out because she might have been targeting his business clients in her anti-corruption efforts. Yet Pompeo still went through with Trump’s order to recall Yovanovitch last May.
Pompeo lashed out at a National Public Radio host Friday and Saturday after she asked him in an interview about Yovanovitch’s removal.
Bolton also wrote that he had concerns about Giuliani. He said he warned White House lawyers last year that Giuliani might have been using his work representing the president as leverage to help his private clients.
Among other names Bolton referenced in the manuscript: Attorney General William Barr. Bolton wrote that he raised concerns with Barr about Giuliani’s influence on the president after Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president. That call was a critical piece of the whistleblower complaint that prompted the impeachment inquiry. Barr on Sunday denied Bolton’s account through a spokeswoman.
Bolton is willing to testify. The White House doesn’t want him to.
Bolton, who released a statement this month saying he would appear at Trump’s trial if he is subpoenaed, is prepared before the Senate, according to his associates. He believes that he has relevant insight to present before senators vote on whether to remove Trump. He is also concerned, his associates said, that if his account of Trump’s Ukraine dealings comes out after the trial, he will be accused of withholding potentially incriminating material in order to increase his book sales.
Trump and the White House, however, do not want Bolton to appear.
The White House had already ordered Bolton and other key officials not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. The manuscript has intensified concern among advisers that they need to use a restraining order to block Bolton from testifying, according to two people familiar with their concerns. It was unclear whether they would be successful in doing so.
The manuscript introduced a significant twist to the impeachment trial.
The revelations from the draft of Bolton’s book could complicate the impeachment trial. A handful of moderate Republican senators who have signaled an openness to calling witnesses did not appear persuaded by the case that the Democratic House managers made last week at the trial, which The Times reported on Friday was heading as early as this week toward a vote on Trump’s acquittal.
Bolton’s revelations could unearth support among that group and a handful of other senators who have indicated they might be open to hearing from him. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Friday he planned to wait until after Trump’s lawyers presented and after senators asked the lawyers questions to decide on whether to support new testimony and evidence.
At least one senator who will vote on impeachment was mentioned by name in the draft of the book: Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Bolton said he was at a meeting last May with Trump in which the president railed about Ukraine trying to damage him politically.
If the Senate does vote to hear from Bolton, the trial could stretch deep into February.