WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump told his national security adviser he wanted to maintain a freeze on military assistance to Ukraine until it launched political investigations into his Democratic rivals, according to John Bolton's description of their exchange in drafts of his forthcoming book, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The revelation challenges the defense offered up by Trump and his attorneys in his Senate impeachment trial and raises the stakes as the chamber decided this week whether to seek sworn testimony from Bolton and other witnesses. Bolton, who acrimoniously left the White House a day before Trump ultimately released the Ukraine aid on Sept. 11, has already told lawmakers that he is willing to testify, despite the president's order barring aides from cooperating in the probe.
Democrats need at least four Republicans to vote with them to seek witness testimony. Those prospects looked unlikely in recent days and it's unclear if the new revelations about Bolton's book will sway any GOP senators.
Democrats quickly sought to ramp up the pressure on their Republican counterparts.
“John Bolton has the evidence,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “It’s up to four Senate Republicans to ensure that John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and the others with direct knowledge of President Trump’s actions testify in the Senate trial.”
The Associated Press has not confirmed the content of Bolton's draft book. A person familiar with the matter told the AP the book had been submitted to the White House for pre-publication review, which is standard for the work of former officials with security clearances. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject.
Democrats accuse Trump of abuse of power in withholding the military assistance to Ukraine to push that country to mount investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company, Burisma, while his father was in office.
On Saturday, the president's attorneys said during their opening day of defense arguments that there was no evidence that Trump made the military aid contingent on the country announcing an investigation into Biden.
Trump on Wednesday told reporters in Davos, Switzerland, that he didn't want Bolton to testify before the Senate.
“The problem with John is it’s a national security problem," Trump said. “He knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive and then I have to deal on behalf of the country?”
He added: “It's going to be very hard. It's going to make the job very hard.”