By Ben Chang
January 29, 2020

The opening statements by President Trump’s defense team in the impeachment trial ironically made a strong case for obtaining witness testimony and document discovery for the trial. Essentially, President Trump’s attorneys argued that key facts remain in dispute. In particular, the eyewitness accounts about the President’s conduct by former Trump national security advisor John Bolton which were released to the media this week underscore why Bolton is one of the witnesses critical to ensuring a fair and deliberate Senate trial. 

According to articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post, Bolton’s upcoming book will recount that Trump told Bolton in August that Trump wanted to continue withholding $391 million to Ukraine “until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” This excerpt alone indicates Bolton’s account would directly counter at least two of the six major claims asserted by the President’s attorneys in their opening defense arguments – in their words the “six key facts that have not and will not change” – and his testimony would, at the least, inform the remaining four. What follows is a discussion of the six central defense claims and what public records indicate Bolton knows about these claims.

Trump Defense Team Claim One: “The transcript shows that the president did not condition either security assistance or a meeting on anything.” 

The reported Bolton excerpt appears to directly contradict this statement. It asserts that President Trump conditioned delivery of the Ukrainian aid on assistance with investigations of Joe and Hunter Biden and other Democrats.

Trump Defense Team Claim Two: “President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that there was no quid pro quo and no pressure on them to review anything.” 

The reported Bolton excerpt appears to directly contradict the notion that there was no quid pro quo, and Bolton would be able to further inform this claim given that he himself had direct interactions with high-level Ukrainian officials in the relevant time frame. During the time the aid was on hold, Bolton hosted senior Ukrainian officials at the White House and traveled to Ukraine to meet with several officials, including President Zelensky.  Bolton’s testimony about his private conversations with these officials, and with other U.S. officials engaged with Ukrainian officials, may illuminate whether or not they were pressured.

Trump Defense Team Claim Three: “President Zelensky and high-ranking Ukrainian officials did not even know, did not even know the security assistance was paused until the end of August, over a month after the July 25th call.” 

Bolton’s testimony would also inform this claim, as he met with Ukrainian officials at the White House on July 10th, two weeks before the July 25th call, and with President Zelensky in Kyiv on August 27th. According to the testimony of other individuals present at the July 10th meeting, the participants discussed Ukrainian “investigations.” Bolton’s testimony may illuminate exactly what the Ukrainian government knew and when they knew it. 

Trump Defense Team Claim Four: “Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else.” 

The Bolton excerpt indicates his testimony would also directly challenge this claim, as, in the reported conversation between Bolton and Trump, the President explicitly connected the Ukrainian aid to the investigations. 

Trump Defense Team Claim Five: “The security assistance flowed on September 11, and a presidential meeting took place on September 25 without the Ukrainian government announcing any investigations.”

Bolton’s testimony would inform this claim. As National Security Advisor, Bolton was intimately involved in Ukraine policy. Like several of the witnesses who testified before the House, Bolton could address the importance of a formal meeting at the White House, and why Zelensky reportedly is still seeking this meeting irrespective of his brief meeting with Trump in New York on the “sidelines” of the United Nations Assembly. Bolton may also testify as to why the aid was withheld and only released after the House had opened an inquiry into the matter. 

Trump Defense Team Claim Six: “The Democrats’ blind drive to impeach the president does not and cannot change the fact, as attested to by the Democrats’ own witnesses, that President Trump has been a better friend and stronger supporter of Ukraine than his predecessor.” 

Bolton’s testimony would inform this claim.  Because of Bolton’s central role in Ukraine policy, and his position as a principal advisor to the President, he is in a prime position to inform the public’s understanding of President Trump’s position on Ukraine and to explain why Trump’s support for Ukraine changed in the spring of 2019.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.