Explosive Bolton book allegations spark new calls for witnesses to testify at impeachment trial

“There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the President’s defense and therefore must be called as a witness at the impeachment trial of President Trump.”

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Calls are growing for the Senate to call witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial, after The New York Times published details about former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book. In the book, Bolton writes that President Trump personally told him in August that he wanted to maintain a freeze on $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until Ukraine turned over materials related to former Vice President Joe Biden and supporters of Hillary Clinton in Ukraine. The New York Times broke the story on Sunday, one day after President Trump’s legal team began its defense of the president. During Saturday’s opening arguments, White House deputy counsel Mike Purpura claimed the Democratic case for impeachment is based on assumptions, and Trump’s attorney Pat Cipollone accused the Democrats of attempting to overturn an election. Trump’s lawyers will continue their opening arguments Monday, after the Democratic House impeachment managers wrapped up their three days of opening arguments on Friday. We speak with Dan Friedman, a reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones who focuses on foreign influence and national security.


Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: Calls are growing for the Senate to call witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial, after The New York Times published details about former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book. In an unpublished draft of the book, Bolton writes that President Trump personally told him in August that he wanted to maintain a freeze on $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until Ukraine turned over materials related to former Vice President Joe Biden and supporters of Hillary Clinton in Ukraine. Bolton sent a draft of the book to the White House for review in December.

The Democratic House impeachment managers issued a statement saying, quote, “There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the President’s defense and therefore must be called as a witness at the impeachment trial of President Trump,” unquote.

The New York Times broke the story Sunday, one day after President Trump’s legal team began its defense of the president at the impeachment trial. During Saturday’s opening arguments, White House deputy counsel Mike Purpura claimed the Democratic case for impeachment is based on assumptions.

MIKE PURPURA: In his public testimony, Ambassador Sondland used variations of the words “assume,” “presume,” “guess,” “speculate” and “believe” over 30 times. Here are some examples.

GORDON SONDLAND: That was my presumption, my personal presumption. … That was my belief. … That was my presumption, yeah.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Is that right?

GORDON SONDLAND: I said I presume that might have to be done in order to get the aid released. … It was a presumption. … I’ve been very clear as to when I was presuming, and I was presuming on the aid. … It would be pure, you know, guesswork on my part, speculation, I don’t know. … That was the problem, Mr. Goldman. No one told me directly that the aid was tied to anything. I was presuming it was.

MIKE PURPURA: All the Democrats have to support the alleged link between security assistance and investigations is Ambassador Sondland’s assumptions and presumptions.

AMY GOODMAN: During Saturday’s opening argument, Trump’s attorney Pat Cipollone accused the Democrats of attempting to overturn an election.

PAT CIPOLLONE: For all their talk about election interference, that they’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history. And we can’t allow that to happen. It would violate our Constitution. It would violate our history. It would violate our obligations to the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s lawyers will continue their opening arguments today. On Friday, the Democratic House impeachment managers wrapped up their three days of opening arguments. This is Democratic Congressmember Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: But let’s just try to step into someone else’s shoes for a moment. Let’s imagine it wasn’t Joe Biden. Let’s imagine it was any one of us. Let’s imagine the most powerful person in the world was asking a foreign nation to conduct a sham investigation into one of us. What would we think about it then? Would we think, “That’s good U.S. policy”? Would we think, “He has every right to do it”? Would we think, “That’s a perfect call”? … It shouldn’t have mattered that it was Marie Yovanovitch. It shouldn’t matter that it was Joe Biden, because, I’ll tell you something, the next time it just may be you.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Senate impeachment trial, we’re joined by Dan Friedman, reporter in Mother Jones’ D.C. bureau who focuses on foreign influence and national security. His recent piece is headlined “Trump’s Legal Team Opened Their Impeachment Defense with a Blizzard of Lies.”

And I want to go into that, Dan, but, first, this latest news that has just been released over the last 24 hours, The New York Times saying that Bolton, in his book manuscript, has said that Trump directly told him that he was withholding military aid to Ukraine unless they would investigate the Bidens, as well, if you can talk about this, the significance of this?

DAN FRIEDMAN: Sure, yeah. I think a key argument that Trump’s lawyers have made is that there is no evidence, as I think some of your clips showed — they have argued that there is no evidence indicating that Trump-linked the hold on aid to Ukraine to his push for Ukraine to announce these investigations that would help him politically. And Trump has also said that the aid was not related to his wish for investigations. So, Bolton’s manuscript, as reported by the Times, completely blows up that claim. It falsifies the sort of key, crux claim of their defense of him so far. So it’s hard to overestimate how bad it is for Trump’s defense.

I would also point out that Mick Mulvaney, in public testimony, the White House chief of staff — excuse me, in his press conference that he had back in October, also said that he had direct conversations with Trump in which Trump linked the hold on aid to wanting Ukraine to announce investigations. So, we shouldn’t forget that also Mulvaney could be a witness linking, connecting the push for aid to investigations. So, the Senate is going to have an opportunity to vote on whether they want to subpoena Bolton, Mulvaney and others. And obviously, the report from the Times makes that vote a lot harder from Republicans if they’re going to try to continue to suppress this evidence.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what this means and what Republicans you see — I mean, we’ll see today — will be — as they’re confronted with what Bolton is going to say. And then also address the issue of executive privilege that President Trump will try to make. And does that protect — is it a broad shield, or can that be challenged? And if Bolton himself, if subpoenaed, wants to testify, whether or not Trump invokes executive privilege, can he say what he wants?

DAN FRIEDMAN: I think the short answer is they can assert executive privilege. If the Senate subpoenas him, there is — for information that he has already reportedly put in the manuscript of a book that is going to be published for anyone to read — and, of course, there’s still a review process for that. But nevertheless, it is a very difficult argument for them to make, and I think ultimately it’s a political question. So, they can attempt to assert executive privilege, but with a Senate subpoena and Bolton wanting to testify, it’s very difficult to suppress that information.

The other point that I would make is, Trump, in his tweet, in which he denied that he had told Bolton that he wanted to hold the aid to force the investigations, is making the case for why Bolton should be subpoenaed. If Trump is saying Bolton is lying, that is a very strong argument for why Bolton should be put under oath, under penalty of perjury, and asked whether it is true that Trump made this connection. So, you know, the Republicans are going to have a hard time keeping Bolton from testifying, and I’m sure that they’ll try.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dan, let’s go to what happened on Saturday. The Democratic House managers wrapped up their arguments on Friday. Talk about the gist of what you call the “blizzard of lies,” what the Trump defense team said in their first day of arguments, and how little time they actually used.

DAN FRIEDMAN: Yeah. They did it all in just a few hours, and they managed to make a lot of claims that are false or deeply misleading.

One of the claims, which was in the clips you played, was that there was no link established between the hold on aid and investigations by Ukraine. One problem with that, we just talked about, is that Bolton has now contradicted that. Another problem with that is that they simply ignored that there was testimony by Gordon Sondland, who they were quoting, linking a refusal to have a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to trying to force him to have these investigations that would help Trump politically. So, Sondland, elsewhere in his testimony, said there was a quid pro quo, famously — it was a big deal — “There was a quid pro quo, I am sure of that, linking” — excuse me — “linking a White House meeting to investigations.” And, you know, Trump’s lawyers didn’t say, “Well, don’t pay attention to that. It’s not as important.” They just literally ignored it. So, I think that goes to sort of the veracity of their argument overall.

Another argument they made is that the Ukrainians were not aware of the hold on aid until, I think, September. That also ignored public statements by the former deputy foreign minister from Ukraine, who said, “We did know about it,” and also testimony by Laura Cooper, who’s a Defense Department official, who said that she also heard the Ukrainians were concerned about the hold on aid, back in July. In both cases, they’re saying they knew about it in July.

So, those are, I think, two big examples, but, you know, there are a whole bunch of others. They said that there is a — they talked about the call that Trump had with Zelensky, and repeatedly referred to it, the transcript of the call. I think anybody who’s paid attention to that knows it’s not actually a transcript. There may be important parts of that testimony — that conversation that are not included in that memorandum of the conversation. It’s a summary of what people who were listening remember. So, there was just a lot of false and misleading claims to pick through, if you were watching on Saturday.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about ABC News obtaining that recording of what appears to show President Trump saying that he wanted the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired, after speaking at a private gathering that included Lev Parnas? Let me go to that —

DAN FRIEDMAN: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me go, before you respond, Dan, to that clip.

LEV PARNAS: Germany is going behind our —

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Germany is not doing much.

UNIDENTIFIED 1: They’re supporting Russia.

LEV PARNAS: They’re supporting Russia.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You think so?

UNIDENTIFIED 2: Oh, I think so.

LEV PARNAS: A hundred percent, 100%.

UNIDENTIFIED 1: Two billion to pay Russia.

LEV PARNAS: A hundred percent, 100%.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It just makes no sense.

LEV PARNAS: It doesn’t, exactly. It doesn’t make sense.

UNIDENTIFIED 1: I’m sure they need support from you, President.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It makes no sense.

LEV PARNAS: A lot of the — exactly. A lot of the European countries, they’re backstabbing us, basically, and dealing with Russia. And that’s why you’re having such — I think if you take a look, the biggest problem there, I think, where we need to start is, we’ve got to get rid of the ambassador. She’s still left over from the Clinton administration.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Where? The ambassador where? Ukraine?

LEV PARNAS: Yeah. And she’s basically walking around telling everybody, “Wait. He’s going to get impeached. Just wait.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Really?

LEV PARNAS: It’s incredible. It’s like —

UNIDENTIFIED 3: She’ll be gone tomorrow.

LEV PARNAS: Yeah. Well —

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What’s her name?

UNIDENTIFIED 1: I don’t remember the name.

LEV PARNAS: I don’t have her name off back.

UNIDENTIFIED 4: So, one of the things that will be, now that we have a secretary of state that’s been sworn in —

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK?

LEV PARNAS: Excellent.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Do it.

LEV PARNAS: Excellent.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that video was obtained from Lev Parnas’s attorney, Joseph Bondy. It begins with Trump posing for photos, then entering a private dining room. And halfway through the recording, one of the participants suggests Yovanovitch is posing problems, and you can hear Trump saying, “Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.” And then the video, it’s sort of showing the ceiling. But, Dan, just explain this whole thing.

DAN FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I think, number one, Parnas and the guy who took the video, Igor Fruman, are associates of Rudy Giuliani, and they were kind of running around Ukraine. As Parnas claimed, he was acting as an emissary of Giuliani, and then, since Giuliani is Trump’s personal lawyer, Trump — emissary of Trump himself, attempting to effectuate this scheme to get Ukraine to have these investigations, and, as part of that — excuse me — to get Marie Yovanovitch fired, the ambassador to Ukraine. Trump, President Trump, has said that he doesn’t know Lev Parnas or Igor Fruman. So, I think, quite clearly, he was lying, is lying, when he says he doesn’t know them. Here’s a video of them having a private meeting with him. And that’s not all. There’s pictures of them together on other occasions.

I think another important point about this meeting, which occurred in May of 2018 at the Trump Hotel, is that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were there because they had pledged to give a million dollars to a super PAC supporting Trump. They wound up giving, a few weeks later, $325,000 through a shell company that they set up in Delaware. So, that is, I think, in many people’s assessment, pretty corrupt that they are able to influence U.S. policy toward Ukraine — which is in a war, of course — because they gave — pledged a million dollars to Trump’s super PAC and gave $325,000. In addition, they have been indicted in Manhattan for campaign finance violations that include allegations that they accepted money from foreign sources, including an unnamed Russian businessman, and used that money to make campaign donations in the United States to influence the U.S. political system. So, we don’t know that this particular donation came from a foreign source, but we don’t know that it didn’t. And it certainly creates the suspicion that foreign interests, for possibly someone in Ukraine who doesn’t — who is concerned that Marie Yovanovitch was an ardent opponent of corruption, and therefore was making it harder to do some kind of potentially corrupt business — a person like that could quite easily be influencing U.S. policy toward Ukraine, through Parnas and Fruman, in this case.

And I think one thing it shows is that there is a lot more investigation to be done, whether it’s by the House, by the Senate, by the Department of Justice, to figure out what was going on, particularly since these events occurred a year before, more than — a little more than a year before most of the action that is at issue in the impeachment trial.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, if you can just comment quickly, in 30 seconds, on what some have called the Epstein dream team, Trump’s — his team defending him being Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz?

DAN FRIEDMAN: Yeah. So, Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz are both, of course, very famous lawyers. And I think that, obviously, the significant thing about Starr was that he was — oversaw the investigation into Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky and related issues. And Alan Dershowitz was a member of O.J. Simpson’s dream team, who helped get him acquitted for murder.

Both of them have previously made arguments that are departures from what they will presumably be arguing this afternoon. Dershowitz has said that you do not have to have committed a crime to be impeached. Today Dershowitz has indicated that he will make the opposite argument. Ken Starr, who was forced out of a job at Baylor University because the football team had a sexual harassment scandal, will be arguing against Trump’s removal from office, as well. That’s obviously inconsistent with Starr’s position when he was going after Clinton.

They will be, I think, really trying to make the case to the public. And I think it is worth keeping in mind that even though their legal arguments may be dubious, they are going to be trying to give Republican senators and Trump supporters something to hang their hat on in terms of saying he shouldn’t be removed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dan Friedman, I want to thank you for being with us, reporter in Mother Jones’ D.C. bureau focusing on foreign policy and national security, covering Trump’s impeachment trial. We’ll link to your piece, “Trump’s Legal Team Opened Their Impeachment Defense with a Blizzard of Lies.”

When we come back, basketball legend Kobe Bryant dies in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others. We’ll speak with The Nation’s Dave Zirin and Fatima Goss Graves. Stay with us.

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