Donald Trump and then-National Security Advisor John Bolton
Amid his Senate trial, Donald Trump’s defense has been further eroded by revelations from former National Security Advisor John Bolton and from Lev Parnas, the point man in Trump’s campaign of pressure for Ukraine investigations of political rivals.
In an extract from a book being published in March, Bolton gives a first-hand account of Trump freezing $391 million in security assistance until the Zelenskiy Government announced the inquiries to tarnish Presidential candidate Joe Biden and to cover up Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.
In a 103-minute video from April 2018, of his Florida dinner with donors, Trump eagerly takes up Parnas’s statement that US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch — prominent in anti-corruption efforts — should be removed: “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
Both developments reinforce the evidence, from documents and from 17 current and former US officials, of a 10-month campaign by Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — a “drug deal” as described by Bolton — for the investigations. The effort was only checked in September by a formal complaint from the CIA liaison with the White House over Ukraine, concerning a July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
They add more pressure to overcome the blockade by the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against any witnesses and documents in the Senate trial, with 22 hours of presentation by House Managers last week of Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Democrats are seeking testimony from Bolton, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and two other White House officials who implemented Trump’s aid freeze.
Four of 53 Republican Senators need to defy Trump and McConnell for witnesses to be allowed. The vote is likely to be at the end of this week, after presentations by Trump’s attorney and questioning by the 100 senators.
White House Concern Over Bolton
Bolton’s account covers dozens of pages, until he was dismissed by Trump in September.
He dates Trump’s involvement from May 23, weeks before Trump seized on the idea of holding up the security assistance. In a meeting of advisors and Sen. Ron Johnson, Trump ranted that Ukraine was trying to damage him and promoted the conspiracy theory that Kyiv and not Russia was responsible for hacking the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Bolton, Pompeo, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged Trump on about a dozen occasions to unfreeze the assistance, vital to Ukraine to check a Russian-backed effort to split off the east of the country. In August, after Trump returned from vacation at his New Jersey golf club, they raised the matter with him.
But Trump only reiterated his complaints about Ukraine and the unsupported claims and conspiracy theories about political rivals such as Biden and Hillary Clinton.
Bolton’s attorney said a copy of the manuscript was given to the White House on December 30 for a review ensuring there was no release of classified information. “Two people familiar with their concerns” said the revelations bolstered the concerns of Trump’s inner circle that Bolton’s testimony in the trial must be blocked.
Bolton refused to appear in the House impeachment hearings, saying a court ruling was needed. However, with the court case now concluded, he has said he will testify in the Senate if summoned.
Trump said he would release no assistance until officials had turned over all materials, from the Trump-Russia investigation, about Biden and Clinton supporters in Ukraine.
Mulvaney, Pompeo, Barr Named
The extract also describes the involvement of senior Administration officials.
The former advisor writes that Mulvaney was present for at least one phone call where Trump and Mr. Giuliani discussed the attacks on Yovanovitch. The assertion refutes the claim of Mulvaney, who obeyed White House orders to defy a House subpoena, that he always stepped away from the conversations to protect attorney-client privilege.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said privately that there was no basis to the Trump-Giuliani campaign of disinformation against Yovanovitch, who was finally recalled from Ukraine by Trump in April.
Documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, indicated Giuliani spoke with Pompeo in March about the pressure campaign, after sending the Secretary of State summaries of meetings with former and current Ukrainian officials.
Last week Pompeo angrily reacted to National Public Radio’s Mary Louise Kelly after she asked him if he had defended Yovanovitch. He falsely claimed that the reporter, a graduate in European Studies, lied and could not distinguish Ukraine from Bangladesh on a map shown to her.
After Trump’s call with Zelenskiy, Bolton says he raised concerns about Giuliani with Attorney General William Barr. He also referred to Trump’s request, in the pursuit of the investigations, for Barr to visit Zelenskiy in Kyiv.
Barr, through a spokesman, has denied the contact with Bolton and said he only learned about the call in mid-August.
In three late-night tweets, Trump tried to bury Bolton’s information, saying it was only to “sell a book”. He repeated that “the transcripts of my calls with President Zelenskiy are all the proof that is needed” of his innocence.
The Parnas Video
Until the revelations of Bolton’s account on Sunday afternoon, headlines were held by the video featuring the voices of Trump — who denies he knows Lev Parnas — and of the Soviet-born associate of Giuliani, who has revealed Trump’s direction of the pressure campaign.
The footage was shot on a cellphone by Igor Fruman, Parnas’s partner in business ventures and the Trump-Giuliani effort. Both men were indicted in October on campaign finance violations.
The dinner conversation, which took place before the start of the Trump-Giuliani campaign, supports Parnas’s account of his connection with Trump and the attacks on Ambassador Yovanovitch, whom the businessman saw as a barrier to his ventures such as an energy deal.
Parnas claimed that the Ambassador, whom he did not name, had been insulting Trump in public discussions and that the situation was bad because Ukrainians “were supporting the Clintons all these years” He mentioned in passing Biden’s family.
The Florida-based businessman said:
The biggest problem there, I think, where we, where you, need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador. She’s basically walking around telling everybody, “Wait, he’s going to get impeached, just wait.”
Trump asked for the name of the ambassador. Fruman said he could not remember but that did not check Trump, who launched his diatribe pledging to “get rid of” Yovanovitch “tomorrow”.
Parnas and Fruman obtained access to the dinner, organized by a pro-Trump “super” Political Action Committee, America First Action, by pledging to donate $1 million to the group.
A month later, they donated $325,000 to the group through their recently-formed company Global Energy Producers.
They also began their campaign against Yovanovitch, pledging financial support to Rep. Pete Sessions, who wrote a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo that the ambassador should be fired.