John Bolton’s surprise offer to testify in Trump impeachment trial puts pressure on GOP

Former national security advisor John Bolton in Washington in September.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Former national security advisor John Bolton said Monday he would testify in President Trump’s impeachment trial if the Senate issued him a subpoena, putting new and potentially intense pressure on Senate Republicans to open the trial further than they had planned.

Several administration witnesses testified during the House investigation of Trump’s actions toward Ukraine that Bolton had told them he was concerned about aspects of the president’s behavior. Former administration official Fiona Hill recounted Bolton caustically comparing Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani’s work in Ukraine to a “drug deal.”

Bolton’s testimony — which Democrats have long sought, believing it would shine additional light on Trump’s actions — could serve as a focal point of a Senate impeachment trial.


“I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” Bolton said in a statement.

But Bolton’s offer to testify did not appear to immediately change the dynamic in the Senate, where Republicans have largely coalesced around Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) plan to push off any decision on live witnesses until a trial is underway.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Monday evening he would like to hear from Bolton, but many Republicans backed McConnell’s strategy or refused to weigh in until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

The House voted last month to impeach Trump on two counts — one accusing him of abuse of power, the other of obstructing Congress’ investigation — but Pelosi has delayed the formal step of sending the impeachment resolution to the Senate in an effort to put pressure on McConnell to relent on witnesses. Democrats argue that McConnell’s plan would allow Republicans to present a mere show trial to the public while delivering Trump a victory.

House Democrats did not subpoena Bolton, but they made clear that they wanted to hear from him. During the House proceedings, Bolton said he would wait for the courts to decide whether witnesses had to testify before Congress or whether they could abide by a presidential directive to not testify.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) on Monday did not rule out holding a new House hearing to call Bolton to testify. But in a CNN interview he said that at this point it “makes sense for Bolton to testify before the Senate.”


Bolton had tied his fate to that of Charles Kupperman, his former deputy, who asked a court to decide whether he had to abide by a congressional subpoena. A federal judge last month said that case was moot and didn’t decide the issue.

“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,” Bolton said in his statement.

Democrats immediately called on Senate Republicans to issue the subpoena.

“The president & Sen. McConnell have run out of excuses,” Pelosi said on Twitter. “They must allow key witnesses to testify, and produce the documents Trump has blocked, so Americans can see the facts for themselves.”

McConnell has indicated that the Republican-controlled Senate will not convict Trump in an impeachment trial and that he would like to see a trial move rapidly to its foregone conclusion. He wants the Senate to hear opening arguments from both sides and then decide whether witnesses and other testimony is needed to decide the case or whether to merely end it at that point.

He might be able to proceed down that path if he has the support of a majority of the Senate. But with only 53 Senate Republicans, he has little wiggle room.

Bolton’s offer to testify will put pressure on Senate Republicans to reject McConnell’s plan. If four Republicans don’t support the plan — as well as all Democrats — he won’t be able to proceed. In addition to Romney, all eyes will be on Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, all of whom have occasionally bucked Trump and their party.


Collins said she wanted to follow McConnell’s plan, which tracks with the process used in the 1999 impeachment trial of former President Clinton.

“I thought that worked well,” she said. “I think it’s difficult to decide in isolation before we have heard the opening statements. Particularly since the president’s attorneys chose not to put a case on in the House and Republicans were not allowed to call witnesses in committee.”

Other Republican lawmakers, including Murkowski, punted on a decision, arguing they don’t need to decide until Pelosi sends the articles.

“I know you guys want to have a trial by Twitter,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told reporters, “but until she has the articles sent over, there is no trial.”

Bolton’s announcement could end up validating Pelosi’s strategy of holding on to the articles of impeachment — instead of immediately sending them to the Senate — in order to bolster Democrats’ negotiating power with McConnell.

“It is now up to four Senate Republicans to support bringing in Mr. Bolton, and the other three witnesses, as well as the key documents we have requested to ensure all the evidence is presented at the onset of a Senate trial,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Given that Mr. Bolton’s lawyers have stated he has new relevant information to share, if any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we have requested, they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover-up.”