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John Bolton says he’ll testify in Trump’s impeachment trial if subpoenaed

The announcement puts pressure on Senate Republicans to allow witnesses.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton
Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

John Bolton, the former national security adviser, announced Monday that he’d be willing to testify at the Senate’s impeachment trial for President Donald Trump — if the Senate subpoenas him.

“During the present impeachment controversy, I have tried to meet my obligations both as a citizen and as former National Security Advisor,” Bolton wrote on a website for his PAC. “I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.”

The prospect that Bolton might testify is tantalizing for Democrats. He ran the National Security Council during the key period in which Trump blocked military aid for Ukraine and pressured the country to investigate the Bidens. And while Bolton is a staunch conservative, he was alarmed by Trump’s actions, urging NSC aide Fiona Hill to make clear she was “not part of whatever drug deal [Gordon] Sondland and [Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up,” and calling Rudy Giuliani “a hand grenade,” according to Hill’s testimony.

Yet while the House pursued its impeachment inquiry last year, Bolton was cagey on whether he’d talk. And he eventually suggested he’d fight any subpoena for his testimony in court (perhaps not wanting to stick his neck out too far to help what he saw as a partisan impeachment effort). House Democrats decided they didn’t want to pursue a lengthy legal battle over this, so they ended up choosing not to subpoena him.

This, then, is a major change in Bolton’s position. The catch, though, is that it’s not clear whether the Republican-controlled Senate will subpoena Bolton — or any witnesses at all for the impeachment trial.

Bolton’s announcement puts pressure on Senate Republicans to allow witnesses

In fact, the witness matter is currently the main point of controversy as the Senate prepares to hold the trial. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has requested that the chamber subpoena four current or former administration officials who didn’t testify in the House’s inquiry, including Bolton. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly said in private that he wants a short trial with no witnesses at all.

Yet McConnell has to keep the support of 51 of the 53 Senate Republicans if he wants to pass any trial plan. (The way the impeachment trial works, the Senate has to approve a plan for it, by a majority vote.) And a few of these Republicans — most notably Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Mitt Romney (UT) — have voiced at least some openness to calling witnesses, and some concern about coordinating too closely with the White House.

So McConnell’s public position has been more nuanced. All he wants, he says, is for the Senate to put off deciding on whether to call witnesses until the trial begins — as the Senate did during President Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999. The idea appeared to be to start the trial, make it clear that there was nothing new, and let everyone get tired of it, so they could decide to end things without witnesses.

But Bolton has now thrown a wrench into the works. He obviously has relevant information for the trial. He didn’t testify last time around. And he’s made clear he won’t sue to block an effort to get him to testify now (though Trump theoretically might). The key Republican senators haven’t weighed in on this development yet. But this will make it harder for them to justify closing the trial with no witnesses. They could still do so anyway, of course, but it would be a tougher sell.

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