John Bolton believed President Trump’s actions toward Ukraine, which eventually led to his impeachment and acquittal, were being guided by “Ukraine fantasy conspiracy theories” largely pushed on him by Rudy Giuliani.
Bolton, who resigned as Trump’s national security adviser last year, finally revealed his thoughts on Trump, Ukraine, and the impeachment fight in his new book, The Room Where It Happened, a copy of which was provided to the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. Bolton offered to testify in the impeachment trial earlier this year only if the Republican-led Senate issued a subpoena against him, which the upper chamber declined to do. The Democrat-led House had asked Bolton to testify but, after he refused, declined to issue a subpoena to compel his testimony. To this day, Democrats have not forgiven Bolton for it.
The former national security adviser wrote that it was Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, who was the impetus behind many of Trump’s views on Ukraine, with Bolton referring to these as “Giuliani fantasies.” Bolton wrote that during a March 21 phone call, Trump complained to Bolton that U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was allegedly “bad-mouthing us like crazy” and that Trump thought her only concern was gay rights issues, saying that “she is saying bad shit about me and about you” and that Trump wanted her her fired “today.” It was on March 25, when Bolton met with Trump, Giuliani, and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow at a small White House dining room, when Bolton “learned Giuliani was the source of the stories about Yovanovitch.”
Bolton would return to the theme often throughout the book, which the Trump administration is frantically trying to stop in court from hitting bookshelves on June 23. Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Bolton is a “liar.”
It was the July 25 2019 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the subsequent whistleblower complaint about it, that would culminate in Democrat-led impeachment proceedings. In the call, immediately after Zelensky expressed interest in purchasing anti-tank weaponry known as Javelins from the United States, Trump asked Zelesnky “to do us a favor though,” to look into a CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and any possible Ukrainian election interference in 2016. Trump urged Zelensky later in the call to investigate “the other thing,” referring to allegations of corruption related to Joe and Hunter Biden, telling Zelensky to speak with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.
“These were, to me, the key remarks in the July 25 call that later raised so much attention, deservedly so, whether impeachable, m criminal, or otherwise,” Bolton wrote. “When, in 1992, Bush 41 supporters suggested he ask foreign governments to help out in his failing campaign against Clinton, Bush and Jim Baker completely rejected the idea. Trump did the precise opposite.”
Bolton wrote that on May 8 “the Ukraine pace began to quicken” when he met with Trump in the Oval with Giuliani, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, where “the subject was Ukraine, and Giuliani’s desire to meet with President-Elect Zelensky to discuss his country’s investigation of either Hillary Clinton’s efforts to influence the 2016 campaign or something having to do with Hunter Biden and the 2020 election, or maybe both.” Bolton said “Trump was clear I was to call Zelensky and make sure Giuliani got his meeting in Kiev next week” and that “Giuliani swore he had no clients involved, which I found hard to believe.” Bolton didn’t make the call, “hoping the whole thing might disappear.”
The national security adviser said that Cipollone and deputy White House Counsel Eisenberg came to see him on May 10 and “the three of us agreed Giuliani couldn’t be allowed to go to Ukraine.”
Bolton lamented that it “became increasingly plain, not only to me but to others as well, including Fiona Hill, the National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia, that Trump completely accepted Giuliani’s line that the ’Russian collusion’ narrative, invented by domestic U.S. political adversaries, had been run through Ukraine.” He said that “Trump was buying the idea that the Ukraine was actually responsible for carrying out Moscow’s efforts to hack U.S. elections” and “that clearly meant we wouldn’t be doing anything nice for Ukraine an time soon, no matter how much it might help us forestall further Russian advances there.”
The national security adviser said that while away in Tokyo, he spoke with his former deputy, Charles Kupperman, who had attended Trump’s debriefing earlier that day related to the Trump administration’s delegation to Zelensky’s inauguration, a meeting which included Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Sen. Ron Johnson.
Kupperman told Bolton that Trump said “I don’t want to have any fucking thing to do with Ukraine” and “they fucking attacked me. I can’t understand why. Ask Joe diGenova, he knows all about it.” DiGenova is a conservative lawyer and Giuliani friend. Trump said that “they tried to f— me. They’re corrupt. I’m not f—ing with them.” Trump also allegedly said “I don’t give a shit” about Ukraine and that “Ukraine tried to take me down. I’m not f—ing interested in helping them.” Trump told the assembled group that “I want the f—ing DNC server” and that he had “no fucking interest in meeting with” Zelensky.
Bolton wrote that Trump thought “all this … pertained to the Clinton campaign’s efforts, aided by Hunter Biden, to harm Trump in 2016 and 2020.”
The national security adviser said he was in Israel on June 25 when he videoconferenced in to a National Security Council, where Trump attacked the $250 million assistance program for weapons purchases to Ukraine.
“Did you approve it, John?” Trump asked, with Bolton saying it was a congressional earmark. “How stupid is this? Germany doesn’t shed on neighboring countries … John, do you agree on Ukraine?”
Bolton claimed that he “didn’t answer directly” and was “worried about what had suddenly made Trump pay attention to this particular military assistance.” He called this “the first time I heard security assistance to Ukraine called into question, but the real issue was how Trump found out about it, and who came up with the idea to use it as leverage against Zelensky and his new government.” He said he “never learned the answers to these question” but that “the key point that I carried away from this conversations was that the Ukraine security assistance was at risk of being swallowed by the Ukraine fantasy conspiracy theories.”
Republicans have argued that both Russia and Ukraine interfered during the 2016 election.
The national security adviser met in his office with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Danylyuk, on July 10, where Perry, Sondland, and Volker all asked to attend, and “it was clear immediately that the three of them were trying to squeeze me into inviting Zelensky to the White House before the July parliamentary elections.” Bolton opposed this, and Danylyuk “was surprised and uncomfortable that I didn’t readily agree to a Zelensky visit … but I wasn’t about to explain to foreigners that the three of them were driving outside their lanes.”
Bolton said Hill “accurately testified that after the meeting … I told her to get into a meeting Sondland held on his own … with the Ukrainians and others from the meeting in my office.” Bolton said he was “stunned” at the “simple-mindedness of pressing for a face-to-face Trump-Zelensky meeting where the Giuliani issues could be resolved.” Bolton told her “to take this whole matter to the White House counsel’s office” and, as she quoted in her testimony, said, “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.” Bolton wrote, “I thought the whole affair was bad policy, questionable legally, and unacceptable as presidential behavior.” He confirmed Hill’s testimony that he described Giuliani as “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”
The national security adviser said Trump’s call with Zelensky didn’t surprise him, writing that he did not think Trump’s comments in the call “reflected any major change in direction” because “the link of the military assistance with the Giuliani fantasies was already baked in.”
Bolton wrote that the next week lower-level officials from the State Department and Pentagon “pressed to transfer nearly $400 million of security assistance to Ukraine,” but “of course, the bureaucrats didn’t know that” Bolton, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, “had been discussing this subject quietly for some time, making efforts with Trump to free up the money, all of which had failed.” Bolton said the trio “had talked to Trump between eight to ten times to get the money released” to no avail. He said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was also worried about Trump’s actions.
Throughout August and September, Bolton, Pompeo, and Esper continued “exchanging thoughts” about how to persuade Trump to release the security assistance before its Sept. 30 deadline.
“We could have confronted Trump directly, trying to refute the Giuliani theories and arguing that it was impermissible to leverage U.S. government authorities for personal political gain. We could have, and we almost certainly would have failed, and perhaps have also created one or more vacancies among Trump’s senior advisers,” Bolton wrote. “The correct course was to separate the Ukraine security assistance form the Ukraine fantasies, get the military aid approved, and deal with Giuliani and the fantasies later … We also knew our maneuvering room was limited, with the usually unstated problem of the 2016 and 2020 election conspiracy theories at the root.”
Bolton said he thought he had done his due diligence by raising his concerns with the White House counsel’s office and Barr.
“Whether Trump’s conduct rose to the level of an impeachable offense, I found it deeply disturbing, which is why I had reported it to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his staff and Attorney General Bill Barr, and why Pompeo, Mnuchin, and I had worried over it in our own conversations,” Bolton said. “I felt then, and feel now, no obligation to correct reporters’ mistakes piecemeal … and I was content to bide my time. I believed throughout, as the line in Hamilton goes, that I am not throwing away my shot, especially not to please the howling press, the howling advocates of impeachment, or Trump’s howling defenders.”
The House impeached Trump on allegations of abuse of power related to Ukraine and of obstruction of Congress in December, but the Senate acquitted him following an impeachment trial in February.
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