Former national security adviser John Bolton is willing to defy the White House and testify in the House impeachment inquiry about his alarm at the Ukraine pressure campaign if a federal court clears the way, according to people familiar with his views.
Bolton could be a powerful witness for Democrats: Top State Department and national security officials already have testified that he was deeply concerned about efforts by Trump and his allies to push Ukraine to open investigations into a political rival of the president’s while the Trump administration held up military aid to that country.
The former national security adviser, who abruptly left his post in September, is expected to confirm those witnesses’ statements and describe his conversations with Trump, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry.
However, Bolton, a longtime GOP foreign policy adviser, does not want to comply with the Democratic inquiry without a court ruling on the ongoing constitutional dispute between the Trump administration and Congress, the people said.
It remains unclear how quickly that could happen — and whether it would be in time for Bolton to be called as a witness in the public impeachment hearings, which are scheduled to begin next week in the House. On Wednesday, House Democrats said they are awaiting a key test case involving former White House counsel Donald McGahn, in which a decision by a district court could come by the end of this month.
An attorney for Bolton declined to comment.
Bolton is considered a high-value witness in part because, as national security adviser, he would have spoken directly with the president about U.S. foreign policy objectives in Ukraine.
His testimony is expected to be “damaging” to Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter.
But a major obstacle faces Democrats hoping to secure Bolton as a star witness: The court battle over congressional subpoenas will probably go to the Supreme Court and spill into next year.
While other officials have complied with requests to participate in the impeachment inquiry without such a judicial order, Bolton is not willing to do so, the people said. NBC first reported that Bolton is willing to testify if the courts order his former deputy to comply with a congressional subpoena.
House Democrats requested Bolton’s appearance at a closed-door deposition Thursday, but he did not attend. He has not been issued a subpoena.
A House Intelligence Committee official said that Bolton’s attorney informed the committee that Bolton would go to court if he were subpoenaed.
“We regret Mr. Bolton’s decision not to appear voluntarily, but we have no interest in allowing the administration to play rope-a-dope with us in the courts for months,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “Rather, the White House instruction that he not appear will add to the evidence of the president’s obstruction of Congress.”
The former national security adviser, who repeatedly tussled with Trump on foreign policy, is closely aligned with National Security Council aides who already have testified about his concerns. Among them are the former Russian affairs director Fiona Hill and the Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
Hill told lawmakers that Bolton erupted in anger after a key White House meeting July 10 in which Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, pressed Ukrainian officials to open investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and the 2016 campaign. Bolton is said to have equated the discussions to a “drug deal.”
Bolton directed Hill to report what she had witnessed to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the National Security Council. Vindman also reported the episode to Eisenberg.
Bolton is expected to corroborate their testimony that he was aghast that U.S. military aid was being held back as the president and his allies were pressuring Ukraine to open investigations that could be damaging to Democrats, according to the people familiar with his views.
However, the people note that Bolton also has an expansive view of presidential power. As a result, it is unclear whether he would testify that Trump overstepped his constitutional authority in his dealings with Ukraine.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post – Carol Leonnig, Tom Hamburger