Bolton’s Memoir Undercuts Hype as Impeachment’s Would-Be Star Witness

Aaron Maté reports on John Bolton’s controversial new book and finds that Bolton would have had little evidence to present had he testified at Trump’s impeachment hearing.  

By Aaron Maté
Real Clear Investigations

In late January, John Bolton became the latest – and unlikeliest – official to enjoy a moment of Resistance glory. A New York Times report about Bolton’s forthcoming memoir fueled round-the-clock expectations that the former national security adviser would substantiate the core allegation at the heart of President Trump’s then-ongoing Senate impeachment trial – that the president tried to coerce Ukraine into opening an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden in a quid pro quo for military aid. Compelling his testimony was cast as a matter of national urgency. Bolton was never given the chance as Senate Republicans voted to block witnesses and acquit Trump on both impeachment counts.

In the publicity blitz for his new memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” Bolton has tried to keep the initial narrative alive. Speaking to ABC News, he claimed that Trump, at a meeting in August 2019, said he “wanted a probe of Joe Biden in exchange for delivering the security assistance.” That conversation, Bolton added, “was the crispest indication of the linkage. … The specificity of the linkage, I think, was unmistakable.”

His memoir, however, fails to substantiate that allegation.

 In fact, Bolton offers new evidence that undermines it.

What he told Martha Raddatz is not what he writes in his book. Instead of a sharp demand of a quid pro quo, Bolton writes, Trump “said he wasn’t in favor of sending [Ukraine] anything until all the Russia-investigation materials related to [Hillary] Clinton and Biden had been turned over.”

Bolton does not explain what he means by “materials” – and no interviewer has asked him to so far. RealClearInvestigations’ request to Bolton for comment, sent through a representative, was not immediately answered.

No Word on Burisma

Regardless, those were not at the heart of Trump’s impeachment. Trump was not impeached for trying to coerce Ukraine into handing over “Russia-investigation materials” to the U.S., but for allegedly trying to force Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to open a wholly separate investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, the gas company where Hunter was given a lucrative board seat while his father was running U.S. policy in Ukraine.

Yet Burisma is not even mentioned in Bolton’s book – and Hunter only in passing. This includes an acknowledgement that Bolton does not even remember if the younger Biden was actually discussed. At a May 8 meeting where Trump and his legal adviser Rudy Giuliani discuss the latter’s “desire to meet with President-Elect Zelensky,” Bolton cannot recall if the purpose is “to discuss [Ukraine’s] investigation of either Hillary Clinton’s efforts to influence the 2016 campaign or something having to do with Hunter Biden and the 2020 election, or maybe both.”

Son gets job on energy company board after his father’s government backs violent coup.

Bolton says his recollections are not precise because the Ukraine-related theories floating around the Trump administration “always seemed intermingled and confused, one reason I did not pay them much heed. Even after they became public, I could barely separate the strands of the multiple conspiracy theories at work.”

Bolton’s words are also ambiguous. The fact that Trump allegedly “said he wasn’t in favor of sending [Ukraine] anything” is not an explicit linkage to military aid. And as for the “Russian-investigation materials,” Bolton does not specify what Trump was referring to. It seems likely Trump may have been referencing his reported theory that the Democratic National Committee server was somehow hacked with Ukrainian involvement.

Trump may also have been seeking information on the Ukrainians who openly admitted to interfering in the 2016 campaign with the aim of thwarting his candidacy, most notably by leaking allegations of illegal payments to Paul Manafort. It is highly plausible that these were Trump’s priorities. In his July 25 phone call with Zelensky, which sparked the whistleblower complaint behind Ukrainegate, Trump’s top issue – and the object of the “favor” he requested – was not the Bidens, but securing Zelensky’s assistance with the Justice Department’s ongoing review of how the Russia investigation began in 2016.

Whatever the case, for Bolton to write that Trump drew a link between these issues and the security aid – and not a link to a demand that Ukraine open an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma – contradicts the impeachment case that many expected him to validate.

Bolton, perhaps inadvertently, also lends credence to the Trump administration’s public defense of its freeze on security assistance to Ukraine, which Democrats cast as the linchpin of a politically motivated quid pro quo. In his July 25 call with Zelensky and subsequent public statements, Trump has said that he wanted NATO allies to spend more on Ukrainian military funding. Bolton recounts that on Aug. 30 – just days after an article in Politico made the aid freeze public, including to the Ukrainian government – Trump repeated his complaints about the U.S. burden, and proposed that NATO provide Ukraine with the security assistance instead of Washington:

Trump said, “I don’t give a shit about NATO. I am ready to say, ‘If you don’t pay, we won’t defend them.’ I want the three hundred million dollars [he meant two hundred fifty million dollars, one piece of the assistance earmarked for Ukraine] to be paid through NATO.” … He then said to Pence, “Call [NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg and have him have NATO pay. Say ‘The President is for you, but the money should come from NATO,’” which still didn’t make any sense.

If Trump is freezing the military aid for the sole purpose of coercing a Ukrainian investigation, it would be incongruous for him to propose an outcome that delivers the money without the investigation he is supposedly trying to compel.

As a part of their impeachment case, Democrats argued that Trump released the aid to Ukraine only after getting caught through publicity surrounding the whistleblower complaint. Yet Bolton writes that after Ukraine conducted a successful prisoner swap with Russia on Sept. 7, “Trump had seemingly indicated” that the swap “might be enough to get him to release the security assistance.” The money was released four days later, on Sept. 11.

Says He Wanted Nothing to do With Ukraine

Bolton confirms national security aide Fiona Hill’s testimony that he told her he did not want to be “part of whatever drug deal Sondland and [White House Chief of Staff Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up.” But he offers context that makes that line far less explosive than it was initially received. Bolton was not referring to leveraging any military aid, but to Sondland’s attempt to push for a hasty meeting between Trump and Zelensky at the White House, where the “Giuliani issues” could be discussed before Ukraine’s parliamentary elections in July.

Bolton says he nixed the idea of a meeting because Trump had recently told him that “he didn’t want to have anything to do with Ukrainians of any stripe,” due to Ukrainian meddling against him in the 2016 campaign. Sondland, in Bolton’s view, was “freelancing.” According to Bolton, Trump had also “resolved the visit issue just before leaving for the United Kingdom in June,” by saying he would meet with Zelensky “not until the fall, the right outcome in my view.”

John Bolton adjusting eyeglasses

John Bolton, 2017, at Conservative Political Action Conference, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore on Flickr)

It is easy to forget why Bolton was initially cast as a savior figure in January by those hoping to remove Trump by impeachment. When news of his memoir emerged, 10 days after the Senate trial began, Democrats had failed to prove their case. Not a single witness in the House impeachment hearings had provided direct evidence of a quid pro quo. The only witness who even spoke to Trump about the Ukraine aid was the then-European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He  reiterated multiple times that “nobody told me directly that the aid was tied to anything,” and that such a linkage was only his “presumption” and “personal, you know, guess.”

Sondland’s testimony was even more damaging to the impeachment case because, according to the impeachment narrative, he was the Trump official who purportedly relayed the alleged quid pro quo to the Ukrainian side. But Sondland revealed that he had only told Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak, in “a very, very brief pull-aside conversation,” that “I didn’t know exactly why” the aid has been frozen, but that a demand to open investigations “could be a reason.”

For his part, Yermak has said he does not even remember discussing the frozen aid with Sondland. That highlighted another problem with the Democrats’ quid pro quo allegation: Not a single Ukrainian official substantiates it. In addition to Yermak, President Zelensky and Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko also said that they saw no tie between the frozen military funding and pressure to open investigations. Even Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a staunch impeachment advocate, corroborates them: When they met in early September, Murphy recalled, Zelensky “did not make any connection between the aid that had been cut off and the requests that he was getting from Giuliani.”

The Ukrainians’ claims make sense in light of the fact that they only learned of the aid freeze, along with the rest of the world, with the Politico article published August 28. That would have meant that the supposed quid pro quo demand was made to them only after the issue became a matter of public controversy. That scenario was always implausible on its face. And now Bolton’s memoir has failed to change the picture. Bolton seems to grasp this fact. “I think the House Democrats built a cliff, they threw themselves off of it,” he told Raddatz of ABC News. “And halfway down, they looked up and saw me, and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come along?”

Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts “Pushback with Aaron Maté” on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

16 comments for “Bolton’s Memoir Undercuts Hype as Impeachment’s Would-Be Star Witness

  1. Mark Stanley
    June 26, 2020 at 20:51

    The Room Where it Happened by John Bolton is #2 seller on Amazon today, June 26. I checked it out.
    Appalling. They are buying it–supporting him. Scary. I didn’t scan the 116 reviews–didn’t want to ruin my evening. As an author with books on Amazon, once in a while I will look to see what they are buying in the top 100. Yes, the level of reader sophistication has exhibited in a steep decline in the ten years I’ve been paying attention, but this is too much. #2 is real wealth, like 10,000 copies a day? Envious? Perhaps. Frightened? Definately.

  2. The Lion
    June 26, 2020 at 15:25

    We have to remember that John Bolton is a long time Neo-conservative, He has been an enabler of a foreign Policy that wants war, he was so notorious that even a Republican senate would not confirm him as the Ambassador to the UN, he got the position as an out of sessions appointee. He was known as Bonkers Bolton around the Hill both preceding and during the GW Bush era. It was Bolton that gave us the problem of a Nuclear North Korea, Clinton had given the world and North Korea a deal shut down your Plutonium making power plant and we will give you Fuel oil to run Diesel Generators, Bolton talked Bush into cancelling the deal, North Korea restarted their Nuclear Power plant that produced lots of Plutonium, with the constant threat of US Invasion being issued from Boltons mouth in the UN, the North Koreans decided that Nuclear weapons states rarely get threatened or invaded so the North Koreans went Nuclear. Bolton also coined the Axis of Evil scenario, for North Korea, Iraq and Iran. He desperately wanted to start wars with these countries, Iraq so he had an Excuse to attack Iran, and North Korea because it was a Communist country. Bolton is never going to go to far against a Republican President, because he has a future hope of either working for another Republican President in the future or worse still running for President. He will not stop until he has had his wars with both Iran and North Korea! Be clear that if Trump had have invaded or went to war with either North Korea or Iran, Bolton would have been happy with Trump no matter what transpired, that Trump backed down in going to war with both has sealed His ire with Trump. However as I said earlier he will not make to many waves, just enough that there will be the possibility of a Republican President elected in 2024, a Republican President that he can persuade to attack either or both North Korea or Iran. Venezuela is needed to both get rid of a Socialist country and to be there to provide limitless oil if the US does go to War with Iran as the Middle east will be blocked.

  3. Zalamander
    June 25, 2020 at 20:36

    John Bolton reminds me so much like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.

  4. Arnieus
    June 25, 2020 at 15:54

    Remember that Bolton was the globalist war-monger DIRECTOR of the PROJECT FOR THE NEW AMERICAN CENTURY PNAC. This is the infamous neocon group, that in the late 90s advocated US military domination of the planet. They published “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” RAD in 2000 in which they lamented “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” The new Pearl Harbor right on schedule was 911, the false flag which launched the preplanned War on Terror. The Bush Administration was infested with PNAC members. Bolton was likely a central planner in 911 and the lies of the Bush gang that got us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where we are still bogged down 20 years and millions of lives later. Also consider that these ultimate war-monger neo-conservative republicans e.g. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld endorsed Hillary and support Biden. Nobody has ever done more damage the US than this swamp snake and he is still at it.

    • Peter M. Garber
      June 25, 2020 at 22:49

      Interesting to learn that Bolton was the director of PNAC. That the national security bureaucrats the Democrats have crawled into bed with are a gang of psychopathic warmongers doesn’t seem to be widely known.

  5. robert e williamson jr
    June 24, 2020 at 23:20

    I guess I could construct a list of things Bolton has tried to achieve, but his past speaks for itself. John is not to be underestimated from what I’ve seen from him and heard about him he appears to be well a qualified, R*t Fu%$er. John, in my opinion, is not above trying anything to get what he wants. Just like so many others on both sides of the isle. Follow the money!

  6. June 24, 2020 at 18:24

    “The Ukrainians’ claims make sense in light of the fact that they only learned of the aid freeze, along with the rest of the world, with the Politico article published August 28. ”

    That implies that “aid” in question had not importance to Ukrainian government. It was supposed to be delivery of some weapons that would save Ukraine in an eventuality of a massive attack by Russian armored vehicles, including tanks. Nobody believes that something like that is plausible — least of all, Ukrainian government. “Threatening” Ukrainian government by delaying delivery of some stuff that would be securely stored somewhere in the western part of the country would have zero punch. What they need is cash, even if it has the form of a loan. Precisely what Biden used to force various demands, Poroshenko applied with all of them and that could contribute to his unpopularity. It remains an open question how many time the West can keep Ukraine running with the same policies that lead to the loss of popularity and the need to change the set of faces.

  7. Philip Reed
    June 24, 2020 at 17:56

    Great article Aaron. You just tied up the impeachment charade with a neat little bow. Laid to rest for all time.

    • TimN
      June 25, 2020 at 07:43

      That vampire isn’t dead yet, I’m afraid.

  8. vinnieoh
    June 24, 2020 at 15:45

    The world can only hope that this is the last gasp of the scumbag known as John Bolton. An unrepentant poser and a fraud.

    While the country is thinking big, as in de-funding police, maybe we could do something to really get their attention. How about starting an online petition that demands the resignation of the entire federal government – executive, legislative, and judicial?

    Does not matter in the least that it would have no legal standing, or that it would be ignored by them. The idea is to send them a message: we are tired of their malfeasance, their incompetence, and their total lack of interest in anything except their partisan total war on each other.

    Just a thought, and I’d bet it would garner many millions of signatures. Considering the “choice” that will be barfed up for us in November, this could have more of an effect than actually voting.

  9. Rob Roy
    June 24, 2020 at 14:56

    Aaron Mate,
    Your excellent article delving into the reality of John Bolton’s book sheds light on the circumstances surrounding the attempt at impeachment of Donald Trump. I thought from the beginning of both Russiagate and the “impeachment” that neither would hold up over time. Perhaps you can investigate Trump contacting President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, telling him an IMF loan of 4.2 billion would be provided for his country if Julian Assange were taken out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London. (Another 6 billion would be loaned from other sources, such as the World Bank.) The IMF loan was given and Julian Assange taken by UK police from the protection of the embassy. In my mind, THAT quid pro quo is clearly impeachable and easily proven. The fact that never happened perhaps you can explain. Is it because the Democrats wanted the same thing, thus never pursued this route to getting rid of Trump as president?

    • June 24, 2020 at 18:33

      The term describing it was “inter-agency consensus”. Any politician who follows what we all hold as good and dear follows I-AC without quibbling, and Trump, despicably, was quibbling. Like now he quibbled on Venezuela, the deeds were rather correct (but why the intrusion of patriotic and democratic forces failed so miserably at least three times), but uttering that he could meet (pointlessly) with Maduro was definitely an act of quibbling.

      BTW, my impression is that inter-agency consensus is a rather recent term, but I am not sure what is the current one. Are we back to “everything we hold good and dear”?

  10. John Puma
    June 24, 2020 at 12:54

    The remarkably flaccid “impeachment” of Trump was for exactly the same crime his upcoming election opponent, Joe (hey, where you going with those feet in your mouth) Biden, proudly admitted to having committed a few years earlier (NYT 01May2019). Except Trump’s alleged extortion involved 4 times LESS money and was without the complicating, lucrative, crony deal for a son … as did Biden’s.

  11. Aaron
    June 24, 2020 at 12:35

    I firmly believe that most of Biden’s donors, just as with Clinton, are Dems in name only, and I include many of the media executives and journalists in that. Because, anybody with a half of a brain, could have seen that the absolute worse candidate the Dems could anoint to run would be Joe, all of his so-called supporters actually want Trump again. Just take this story for example, Trump can now boast for several months about Biden’s quid pro quo – Hunter’s job in exchange for Joe’s loyalty on all issues, everything is a quid pro quo. And I bet that most folks during all of this didn’t even know that Ukraine is NOT a NATO member, and so it is not a good fight for the Democrats, just like with a state like Israel, to constantly put their concerns ahead of our own citizens, when our own country is just falling apart. Trump is a con man, but Biden and the democrats are con artists also, and not as good as it, they always look hypocritical and their moral arrogance is repulsive to people, because their deeds and lies are also terrible. And that’s no mularkey. And for the love of God, looking to John Bolton as a savior? Can it get any more ridiculously desperate? In a dystopian summer, it feels like cruel and unusual punishment to ask us to vote for Biden. Really, of all the Democratic candidates, just go down the list, I think Biden is the ONLY one of them that Trump has a chance to beat, think about how that could possibly have happened, something is really wrong about this scenario. Things are not what they seem to be.

  12. Buffalo_Ken
    June 24, 2020 at 12:29

    The impeachment hearing was based on false assumptions from the beginning.

    Kind of amazing that the DNC went through with it because it could have backfired and exposed all of their nefarious activities and actions.

    Just goes to show you how cocky they are. Both the DNC and the so-called “intelligence community”.

    Payback is coming slowly but surely, but I suspect swiftly for some who deserve it the most. Keep your eyes out.

    I feel it coming and it ain’t gonna be perty.

    • AnneR
      June 25, 2020 at 10:58

      BK – what is interesting (a moi anyway) is that it would seem, as the so-called pundits, commentators and whatnot on (NPR/BBC World Service in this household) seem to have dropped Bolton’s “revelations” rather quickly. Perhaps *because* they don’t actually reveal what the Blue Faces of the Janus Party want. And there is no doubting (surely?) that NPR is a Blue Faced hangout.

      I thank Mr Mate for this very interesting view into Bolton’s less than indicting memories of the P***ing (just for a change of expletive) Strumpet’s declarations of his intentions…. (And I thank him for having the stomach for reading this book; more than I could contemplate given the barbaric author.)

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