WASHINGTON – Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said Monday he would testify if subpoenaed during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, complicating Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan for swift proceedings with no witnesses.
“I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” Bolton said in a statement posted on his political action committee’s website. Bolton didn’t alert the White House ahead of time, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Bolton’s pronouncement injects fresh drama into the trial, which has been delayed amid a stalemate over Democrats’ demand that key administration figures — including Bolton — appear as witnesses. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Bolton’s statement increases pressure on Senate Republicans to back his call for additional testimony.
“Given that Mr. Bolton’s lawyers have stated he has new relevant information to share, if any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we’ve requested they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover up,” Schumer said Monday on the Senate floor.
The White House blocked those witnesses, which also include acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, from testifying to the House during its impeachment inquiry into Trump’s attempt to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals. McConnell has dismissed the demand for more testimony as a “fishing expedition.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t yet transmitted to the Senate the two articles of impeachment adopted by the Democratic majority in the House last month, saying she wanted to see assurances of a “fair” trial in the Senate. McConnell and Schumer haven’t engaged in formal negotiations over trial procedures and remain at odds over the question of additional witnesses and testimony.
Pelosi said on Twitter that with Bolton’s willingness to testify, Trump and McConnell “have run out of excuses. They must allow key witnesses to testify, and produce the documents Trump has blocked, so Americans can see the facts for themselves.”
McConnell didn’t address Bolton’s offer when he spoke Monday on the Senate floor. He again criticized what he called the “slapdash” House impeachment process and reiterated his stance that any decision on calling witnesses should be left until after the House and Trump’s defense make their arguments. That’s the process that was agreed to at the impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton in 1999.
McConnell has been hoping to set the stage for a swift acquittal by keeping Senate Republicans united. No Republicans have yet called for subpoenas for fresh evidence or witnesses sought by Democrats.
It’s unclear whether Bolton’s testimony would help or hurt the president’s defense. The former national security adviser was one of the central figures in White House conversations about Ukraine, and he declined to participate in the House’s impeachment inquiry without a ruling by a court on whether to comply with a House subpoena or White House instructions that he not testify.
Facing a potentially a lengthy court battle, the House didn’t issue a subpoena for Bolton before voting to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
It would only take four GOP senators to vote with Democrats to issue a subpoena for Bolton, since the trial’s procedures will be decided by a simple majority. Republicans control the chamber with 53 votes.
Bolton has “crucial eyewitness knowledge” about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, Schumer said. “It is now up to four Senate Republicans.”
Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are among the GOP senators that Democrats would try to court if they want to force a procedure against McConnell’s will. Mitt Romney of Utah has been a frequent Trump critic, and retiring Republicans such as Lamar Alexander of Tennessee or Pat Roberts of Kansas would have an easier time splitting from their leader on procedural questions, making them potential targets for lobbying by Democrats.
Collins and Murkowski told reporters the Senate should follow the Clinton trial precedent and not decide on witnesses until after hearing arguments and senators questions, agreeing with McConnell’s stance. They said senators could decide then on whether to call Bolton.
“I think we need to do what they did the last time they did this unfortunate process, and that was to go through a first phase and then they reassessed after that,” Murkowski said. “I don’t think there’s any decision on Bolton because we don’t have articles.”
Romney said Monday that Bolton has first-hand information and “I’d like to hear what he has to say.” But he stopped short of saying he’d vote with Democrats to subpoena Bolton without knowing what the procedures will be for the Senate trial. “Time will tell,” Romney said.
Senior Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he had “no objection” to Bolton testifying in a taped deposition, but wouldn’t necessarily back issuing a subpoena. He said the attempt by Democrats to get Bolton as a witness is an admission of how weak their case is and that he’s concerned that it would open up the floodgates to a parade of other demands.
“I’m not for the Senate being turned into a circus like the House,” Cornyn told reporters. “And I would worry that that would be the beginning and not the end of the other witnesses they would want to drag through here in order to distract attention and recreate that circus-like atmosphere. So I’m not ready to commit.”
Several other Republican senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida and Todd Young of Indiana, said the Senate’s job is to consider the articles presented by the House and not collect new evidence.
Young said would create “a bad precedent if the Senate would try to improve upon defective articles of impeachment” and that calling Bolton is “not even something I’m considering.”
Despite uncertainty about what Bolton might say, Democrats clearly saw an opening to put pressure on Republicans.
“Regardless of what Bolton’s testimony might be, I want to hear from him and review his documents. Why wouldn’t anyone if they were committed to #ImpartialJustice?” Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who represents a deeply pro-Trump state and is one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in 2020, wrote on Twitter.
Bolton could potentially offer testimony about what Trump said privately during his effort to force Ukraine to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. He would be the most senior Trump White House aide to testify in impeachment proceedings.
Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified to the House that Bolton referred to the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, as a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.” Giuliani has led a months-long effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine, work he has said he has done in his capacity as Trump’s private lawyer.
Bolton referred to the efforts to pressure Ukraine as a “drug deal” and said he would not get involved, Hill said.
In November, Bolton’s lawyer wrote in a letter filed in federal court that the former Trump adviser “was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far.”
Bolton had joined a lawsuit with Charles Kupperman, who worked on the National Security Council, and sued Trump and House Democrats in October seeking a ruling on whether the president’s order for him to ignore a House subpoena was legal. The House ultimately withdrew its subpoena, and the Justice Department said it wouldn’t go after Kupperman for flouting it, making the dispute moot, a judge decided.