WASHINGTON ― With the Republican-controlled Senate poised to acquit President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment without calling a single witness, the Democratic-controlled House may take another look at subpoenaing additional Trump administration officials ― chief among them, former national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton has practically been begging to be a witness in the Senate trial. He said at the beginning of January that he would testify if the Senate called him, and the explosive claims in his forthcoming book have demonstrated the need to hear him under oath.
Bolton’s manuscript states that he has firsthand knowledge of Trump’s scheme to withhold security aid to Ukraine until leaders of that country agreed to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Bolton claims that Trump explicitly told him he wouldn’t release the aid until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced an investigation into the Bidens. In other words, his book says the president confirmed the quid pro quo.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been cagey about whether the House would subpoena Bolton. But she said Thursday that, while she hoped and prayed senators would listen to other witnesses ― specifically name-checking Bolton ― she also believed there’s “more truth for the American people to know.”
“We’ll see what happens after,” Pelosi said, at that point waiting for the Senate to decide whether to allow witnesses.
Since the Senate blocked a motion to call witnesses on Friday evening, subpoenaing Bolton is about to become a key priority of many House Democrats.
All week, Democratic lawmakers made it clear that if the Senate didn’t call Bolton to testify, then the House should.
“The speaker has not ruled that out, but it’s absurd if the Senate doesn’t call him,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told HuffPost earlier this week.
“I know others have been looking into it,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said of subpoenaing Bolton in the House.
And Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was emphatic: “Oh, we absolutely should subpoena Bolton if they don’t. Yeah, no question. I mean, if we have to wait for a book to come out, that’s a pretty pathetic way for Congress to deal with this.”
Rather than a question of whether the House will subpoena Bolton, the real issue may be whether he will abide by the order to testify.
Bolton’s initial refusal to testify in the House impeachment investigation scared off Democrats from entering into a potentially long court battle to force him to appear. While the courts have previously ruled that other officials ― like former White House Counsel Don McGahn ― must comply with congressional subpoenas, Bolton’s lawyers indicated that a subpoena for him would require a separate court case because of the classified and national security implications of his testimony.
It’s unclear if Bolton would now agree to speak under oath to the House or if he’d still fight a subpoena.
House Democrats have thus far avoided calling outright for a Bolton subpoena because they wanted to keep the pressure on the Senate. They didn’t want to give GOP senators the excuse to claim they didn’t need to hear Bolton testify because the House would.
“We shouldn’t be going to the ifs,” Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told HuffPost. “Because, well, sure, the House can do that, just like we can wait for Bolton’s book to come forward. But the responsibility is with the Senate to actually call him as a witness, and nobody should allow them to get away with shifting the attention to anybody else.”
With the Senate voting down witnesses, however, and the impeachment trial nearing its expected end, that dynamic in the House will shift significantly.
Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” is scheduled to be released on March 17, and it should provide some clarity on what he would testify. But Democrats argue that it’s important for Bolton to speak to Congress under oath, given that President Trump has disputed his account.
“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump tweeted earlier this week. “In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination.”
Trump claimed that Bolton was only providing this account “to sell a book” and that the rough transcript of his call with Zelensky was all the proof he needed to refute it.
According to notes from that July 2019 call, Trump asked Zelensky for a favor: look into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election (a debunked conspiracy theory) and look into the alleged corruption of the Bidens.
At the same time, Trump was withholding aid to Ukraine. U.S. officials later conveyed to the Ukrainians that it was their understanding the aid would not be released and there would not be a White House meeting with Zelensky if he didn’t announce those investigations.