John Bolton summoned; first big vote set on impeachment probe
WASHINGTON — House investigators are summoning former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in their impeachment inquiry, deepening their reach into the White House as the probe accelerates toward a potential vote to remove the president.
Democratic lawmakers want to hear next week from Bolton, the hawkish former adviser who openly sparred over the administration's approach to Ukraine, in particular President Donald Trump's reliance on his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani for a back-channel operation. Bolton once derided Giuliani's work as a "drug deal" and said he wanted no part of it, according to previous testimony.
The Democrats are also calling John Eisenberg, the lawyer for the NSC who fielded an Army officer's concerns over Trump's phone call with the Ukraine president, and Michel Ellis, another security council official, according to a person familiar with the invitation and granted anonymity to discuss it.
The rush of possible new witnesses comes as the House prepares to take its first official vote Thursday on the process ahead. That includes public hearings in a matter of weeks and the possibility of drafting articles of impeachment against the president.
The White House has urged officials not to testify in the impeachment proceedings, and it's not guaranteed that those called will appear for depositions, even if they receive subpoenas as previous witnesses have.
Bolton's former deputy, Charles Kupperman, has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to resolve the question of whether he can be forced to testify since he was a close and frequent adviser to the president. Any ruling in that case could presumably have an impact on whether Bolton will testify.
Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill say the entire impeachment inquiry is illegitimate and are unpersuaded by the House resolution formally setting out next steps.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the format for the impeachment probe denies Trump the "most basic rights of due process."
Now in its second month, the investigation is focused on Trump's July phone call with Ukraine when he asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats and a potential 2020 political rival, Joe Biden, as the White House was withholding military aid Ukraine relies on for its defenses. Democrats contend Trump was proposing a quid-pro-quo arrangement.
On Wednesday, the Democratic and Republican House lawmakers heard fresh testimony about the Trump administration's unusual back channels to Ukraine.
Two State Department Ukraine experts offered new accounts of Trump's reliance on Giuliani rather than career diplomats to engage with the East European ally, a struggling democracy facing aggression from Russia.
Foreign Service officer Christopher Anderson testified that Bolton cautioned him that Giuliani "was a key voice with the president on Ukraine" and could complicate U.S. goals for the country.
Another Foreign Service officer, Catherine Croft, said that during her time at Trump's National Security Council, she received "multiple" phone calls from lobbyist Robert Livingston -- a former top Republican lawmaker once in line to become House speaker -- telling her the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, should be fired.
"It was not clear to me at the time -- or now -- at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch," she said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
Livingston characterized Yovanovitch as an "'Obama holdover' and associated with George Soros," she said, referring to the American financier who is often the subject of conservative criticism in the U.S. and Europe.