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Saturday, November 09, 2019 1:00 am

White House aides: Trump wanted probe

Associated Press

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Bolton will testify if judge orders him

WASHINGTON – Former national security adviser John Bolton was “part of many relevant meetings and conversations” pertaining to the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump that are not yet public, his lawyer said Friday.

Charles Cooper made the revelation in a letter that suggests Bolton will appear before Congress only if a judge orders him to do so.

The letter, addressed to the top lawyer for the House of Representatives, seeks to distinguish Bolton and former deputy Charles Kupperman from other current and former White House officials who have testified so far to impeachment investigators. The letter says that Bolton and Kupperman, unlike the other witnesses, provided direct advice to Trump regularly and would be asked during any congressional appearance to disclose sensitive foreign policy and national security information.

WASHINGTON – There was no hinting around, it was a straight-out trade, two key White House officials told impeachment investigators. If Ukraine's new leader wanted an Oval Office welcome from Donald Trump – and he did – he would have to open a public probe into the president's Democratic foe Joe Biden and his son.

“There was no ambiguity,” said Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer assigned to the National Security Council, recounting an extraordinary day of meetings at the White House last summer.

According to transcripts released Friday in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, Vindman and Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, both gave firsthand descriptions of scenes central to the congressional probe.

Vindman testified that Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor serving as ambassador to the European Union, told the visiting officials that if they hoped to win that coveted face-to-face meeting, “the Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens.”

The Bidens? the House questioners pressed. In the White House Ward Room, he mentioned the word “Bidens”?

“To the best of my recollection, yes,” Vindman testified. “My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit.”

In another episode that day at the White House, Hill testified that Trump's national security adviser John Bolton “immediately stiffened” as Sondland “blurted out” that he had worked out with Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney just that trade – the Ukrainians' probe for an Oval Office welcome.

“Well, we have an agreement with the chief of staff for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start,” Hill recalled – a reference to the firm, Burisma, where Biden's son was on the board. Then Bolton then abruptly ended the meeting.

Pressed on how it came to be that Sondland, a wealthy businessman who has become a key figure in the impeachment probe played such a pivotal role in Ukraine policy, Hill testified she was dismayed by the idea.

“He said he was in charge of Ukraine,” Hill recalled.

She testified that she challenged the ambassador to the point of being admittedly rude to him. “Who says you're in charge of Ukraine?” she said.

“The president,” he replied.

The hundreds of pages of transcripts showed the investigation's deep reach into the White House ahead of next week's public hearings.

Vindman alerted superiors about the meeting he described and also after he listened to the July phone call in which Trump personally appealed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and an outlier theory of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A whistleblower's complaint about that call triggered the impeachment probe, which also focuses on allegations that Trump was holding up military aid to Ukraine, which fears aggression by Russia, until he got a declaration of the Ukrainian investigation.

Both officials are among nearly a dozen who have testified behind closed doors, and both said they were not the whistleblower.

Trump insisted earlier Friday he has not been damaged by testimony, and he and fellow Republicans complain the witnesses generally are relying on secondhand accounts of central events.

Speaking to reporters as he left on a campaign trip, Trump said he was “not concerned about anything” that has been disclosed so far.

He distanced himself from Sondland, whom he praised last month as “a really good man and great American.”

“I hardly know the gentleman,” Trump said.

Despite Trump's dismissive comments, the new testimony, particularly the day of meetings July 10 at the White House, has become pivotal. It puts Mulvaney more directly involved in the shadow diplomacy being run through Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and implemented by Sondland.

After Bolton left the one meeting, he told Hill to follow the group into the next and report back to him.

She testified that at the second White House meeting, Sondland “as I came in, was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations.” She said she heard Sondland mention Burisma.

When she relayed what she heard back to Bolton, he called it a “drug deal” and told her to report it to the National Security Council lead counsel, John Eisenberg.