WASHINGTON – Former national security adviser John Bolton defended his decision not to testify in the impeachment process against President Donald Trump and said he didn’t believe the result would have been any different if he had.
“People can argue about what I should have said and what I should have done,” Bolton said Wednesday during a lecture at Vanderbilt University. “I would bet you a dollar right here and now, my testimony would have made no difference to the ultimate outcome.
“I sleep at night because I have followed my conscience.”
During the House impeachment inquiry, Bolton declined to testify voluntarily and vowed to fight a subpoena in court. House Democrats decided not to subpoena Bolton, arguing that a lengthy legal battle would render the impeachment – which they said centered on concerns about the integrity of the upcoming election – moot.
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It was Bolton’s second public appearance since Trump was acquitted on two articles of impeachment related to allegations he used military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into opening politically motivated investigations. According to leaks about the contents of his upcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” Bolton says Trump made it clear he did not want the aid released until Ukraine agreed to help with the investigations.
Trump has denied telling Bolton or anyone else that the aid was tied to the investigations.
Two days before saying his testimony would not have changed the outcome of the impeachment trial, Bolton said in an appearance at Duke University that the leaks about the Ukraine portion of his book were “the sprinkles on an ice cream sundae.”
And when asked Monday whether he thought Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect,” as the president often claims, Bolton replied, “You’ll love Chapter 14.”
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On Wednesday, Bolton slammed House Democrats for their handling of the inquiry.
“I think the House committed impeachment malpractice the way they conducted it,” he said, drawing groans from the audience.
“They made a mess of it. The process drove Republicans who might have voted for impeachment away because it was so partisan. That’s my take on it. I am sorry if you disagree.”
After the House approved articles of impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Bolton said he was willing to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed. Bolton said Wednesday that he had not expected the Senate to vote against calling him, or any other additional witnesses, before issuing a verdict.
Rice blasted Bolton’s handling of the matter, saying she would have felt as though she were “shamefully violating my oath to support and defend the Constitution” if she did not speak out.
“I can’t imagine withholding my testimony with or without a subpoena,” she said. “I also can’t imagine, frankly, in the absence of being able to provide that information directly to Congress, not having exercised my First Amendment right to speak publicly at a time when my testimony or my experience would be relevant.”
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Bolton’s book is being reviewed by National Security Council staff in the White House. He said that anyone calling on him to “spill his guts” had to consider that he was facing the “implied threat of criminal prosecution” if he shares what administration officials decide is classified material.
And when asked whether he would testify if the House issued him a subpoena, Bolton said, “I’m not here to speculate on that with the pre-publication review process underway.”
The response drew some laughs from the audience.
“Laugh all you want. This is the judgment of my counsel, somebody I worked with 35 years ago, 30 years ago at the Department of Justice,” Bolton said.
Rice, whose own book went through the same White House review, said nothing in the process would have stopped her from sharing “information with Congress or the public that I thought was of national import.”
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Like Bolton, Rice criticized Congress’ handling of the impeachment process. But her ire was directed at the Senate Republicans, all of whom voted to acquit the president, with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.
“Congress abdicated their responsibilities and made it impossible in the future to hold any president accountable,” she said. “I don’t know how we put this Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
Contributing: Kerri Bartlett, The Tennessean; Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY; The Associated Press