John Bolton, the US national security adviser who left the White House last month after falling out with Donald Trump, has been asked to appear before Congress’ impeachment inquiry, setting the stage for testimony that could change the course of the investigation.
Mr Bolton is seen as a central figure in the presidential impeachment proceedings, with other witnesses testifying he vociferously objected to Mr Trump’s attempts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family and other domestic political disputes.
As a longtime Republican hawk, Mr Bolton would be difficult to paint as an anti-Trump partisan if his testimony is critical of the president’s actions; Mr Trump has sought to portray some of the most damaging evidence given against him as part of a Democratic-led political smear campaign.
According to one person briefed on the House investigation, Mr Bolton has been asked to testify in a closed-door session next Thursday, November 7.
William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, told the impeachment inquiry Mr Bolton strongly objected to efforts to link an Oval Office meeting for the new Ukrainian president with the launching of investigations into the Bidens and a conspiracy theory focused on Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Mr Taylor testified that Mr Bolton had “abruptly” ended a July White House meeting with Ukrainian officials after Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, suggested the two were connected.
On Tuesday, Alexander Vindman, a US army officer and member of the National Security Council, gave a similar account to the investigating committees, saying the meeting was “cut short” by Mr Bolton after Mr Sondland “started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations”.
Another National Security Council official has testified that Mr Bolton referred to the linking of any Oval Office meeting between the two presidents and the opening of investigations as a “drug deal”.
Mr Bolton, known for his hardline stance against American adversaries, broke with Mr Trump over the president’s efforts to negotiate deals with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Iran’s supreme leader and the Afghan Taliban. He left the White House following repeated disagreements with administration officials, including secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
Mr Trump and Mr Bolton sparred after his departure, with the president claiming on Twitter that he had fired Mr Bolton by telling him his “services are no longer needed”. Mr Bolton countered that he had offered to resign.
The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry — the intelligence committee, the oversight committee and the foreign affairs committee — have questioned more than a dozen witnesses in closed-door sessions as part of their probe, sparking criticism from the White House and many Republicans who have called for more transparency and claimed the president is not being treated fairly.
The investigation is expected to become more public-facing, with live televised hearings, in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, the entire House of Representatives is set to vote on a resolution setting out the next steps for the impeachment inquiry, which is expected to eventually move to the judiciary committee, which will draft articles of impeachment against the president. The full House would need to approve the articles by a simple majority in order for the president to be impeached, before a trial were to take place in the Senate.