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John Bolton Puts the Ball in Mitch McConnell’s Court

Former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton passed the buck on Monday, saying in a statement that he will testify at the impeachment trial if the Mitch McConnell-led Senate issues a subpoena.

For many, it’s about time that Bolton said something along these lines, but it’s notable that he specifically said he would respond to a Senate subpoena while making no mention of the Nancy Pelosi-led House.

Bolton’s full statement [added emphases ours]:

During the present impeachment controversy, I have tried to meet my obligations both as a citizen and as former National Security Advisor. My colleague, Dr. Charles Kupperman, faced with a House committee subpoena on the one hand, and a Presidential directive not to testify on the other, sought final resolution of this Constitutional conflict from the Federal judiciary. After my counsel informed the House committee that I too would seek judicial resolution of these Constitutional issues, the committee chose not to subpoena me. Nevertheless, I publicly resolved to be guided by the outcome of Dr. Kupperman’s case.

But both the President and the House of Representatives opposed his effort on jurisdictional grounds, and each other on the merits. The House committee went so far as to withdraw its subpoena to Dr. Kupperman in a deliberate attempt to moot the case and deprive the court of jurisdiction. Judge Richard Leon, in a carefully reasoned opinion on December 30, held Dr. Kupperman’s case to be moot, and therefore did not reach the separation-of-powers issues.

The House has concluded its Constitutional responsibility by adopting Articles of Impeachment related to the Ukraine matter. It now falls to the Senate to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still-unanswered Constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts.

Accordingly, since my testimony is once again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) have publicly sparred on the issue of calling witnesses at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.

Schumer repeated his demand for Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and two Office of Management and Budget officials to testify after emails showed that President Trump himself ordered the hold on congressionally appropriated military to Ukraine went public.

Sen. Schumer called such revelations are a “devastating blow to Senator McConnell’s push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we’ve requested.”

“The American people deserve a fair trial that gets to the truth, not a rigged process that enables a cover-up,” he added.

Schumer also reacted to the news in a letter.

“These emails further expose the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president’s decision to cut off aid to Ukraine to benefit itself,” he wrote. “This new evidence also raises questions that can only be answered by having the key Trump administration officials–Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, Michael Duffey, and Robert Blair–testify under oath in a Senate trial.”

“Importantly, that Mr. Duffey said there was ‘clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold’ only further implicates President Trump and underscores the need for the Senate to subpoena the witnesses and documents we’ve requested at the onset of a trial,” Schumer continued.

McConnell previously rejected Schumer’s proposed witnesses and criticized Schumer for his “eleven-paragraph letter,” which was “delivered by way of the news media” as opposed to a face-to-face meeting.

At the time, McConnell said he still hoped to pursue an in-person conversation with Schumer, and suggested a template similar to that used in the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton. During the Clinton proceedings, the Senate agreed to hear arguments from the prosecution and the defense before voting on whether to call witnesses.

Schumer responded to McConnell’s speech with a floor speech of his own.

“I did not hear a single sentence, a single argument as to why the witnesses I suggested should not give testimony,” Schumer said. “Impeachment trials, like most trials, have witnesses.”

McConnell has already said publicly that he is coordinating closely with the White House and that there’s no chance Trump will be removed from office.

Legal experts have repeatedly said that Bolton doesn’t have any excuse for refusing to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

NPR recently asked Bolton for comment on the impeachment inquiry. Bolton replied that he has “a lot to say on the subject” but wasn’t going to get into it because he didn’t know if he should obey a White House directive not to testify.

He also said he was monitoring Kupperman’s since-dismissed case for guidance.

“Well, you know, there’s obviously a lot swirling around in that department, including some litigation that could affect my status. So I think although I have a lot to say on the subject, the prudent course for me is just to decline to comment at this point,” Bolton said. “Dr. Kupperman, my former deputy, is in litigation now on what to me is a critical separation of powers question. When the House issues a subpoena – and in his case, and I think it would be true in mine – and the President tells him not to testify, which authority controls? Dr. Kupperman went to court to seek the third branch’s opinion in this conflict between the first two. I think that’s a very important issue that needs to be resolved.”

Speaker of the House Pelosi (D-Calif.) has pumped the brakes on selecting impeachment mangers because she’s waiting on assurances that there will be a fair trial in the Senate. We are still waiting on House Democrats to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

[Image via in McNamee/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.