The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In wake of Bolton revelations, Democrats vent fury at Republicans over handling of Trump impeachment

Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton
Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Congressional Democrats on Wednesday reacted with fury to the revelation in a new book by former national security adviser John Bolton that President Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 U.S. election, with some blaming Bolton for not speaking out earlier, others criticizing Republicans for voting to bar new evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial earlier this year, and a few demanding answers to questions raised by the new revelations.

Bolton writes in his book, scheduled for release next week, that Trump told Xi during a summit dinner in June 2019 that an increase in agricultural purchases by Beijing from American farmers would aid his electoral prospects.

At the same meeting, Xi also defended China’s construction of camps to house as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang — and Trump signaled his approval, Bolton writes in the book.

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), defended their vote earlier in the year to acquit Trump and to block witnesses such as Bolton from coming to testify on the central question of whether Trump held back U.S. aid to Ukraine until the country launched an investigation into Joe Biden.

“I haven’t read John Bolton’s book, but I don’t need to rethink my decision,” Alexander said Wednesday evening at the Capitol. “The question was, in the trial, did I need any more evidence to be convinced that President Trump did what he was accused of doing? I said he did it. I was convinced. I didn’t need any more evidence.”

He added: “I simply said that that didn’t rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, which would qualify for conviction on impeachment.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who was the lead impeachment manager, said in a tweet Wednesday that Bolton “may be an author, but he’s no patriot.”

The Justice Department filed a suit June 16 seeking to block the release of a book by former White House national security adviser John Bolton. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“Bolton’s staff were asked to testify before the House to Trump’s abuses, and did,” Schiff tweeted. “They had a lot to lose and showed real courage. When Bolton was asked, he refused, and said he’d sue if subpoenaed. Instead, he saved it for a book.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Bolton book excerpts only further demonstrate that Democrats were correct to lead the push for Trump’s impeachment on charges of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.

“It was clear then and could not be any clearer now: the vote to convict and remove Donald Trump from office was absolutely the right vote,” Schumer said in a statement. “The revelations in Mr. Bolton’s book make Senate Republicans’ craven actions on impeachment look even worse — and history will judge them for it.”

Some Democrats with powerful positions on committees said Bolton’s claims about Trump’s conduct opens up new questions to be probed, with at least one wanting to hear from Bolton directly.

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), sent a letter to the executive vice president of the Trump Organization asking for a full accounting of Trump’s business arrangements with ICBC, a Chinese state-controlled bank.

“This disturbing revelation raises new questions about other ways in which President Trump benefits personally, and financially, from the Chinese government, including through ongoing business relationships,” Menendez wrote.

Menendez’s counterpart in the House, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said he would be consulting with other House Democratic leaders on next steps.

“The House will continue to look for answers wherever we may find them about the President’s abuses and corruption,” Engel said in a statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, is interested in a different allegation Bolton makes in the book about Trump’s attempt to interfere in a criminal investigation as a favor for Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan.

“If John Bolton has an interest in serving his country, as opposed to selling books, he will respond promptly to my forthcoming request for more information about Donald Trump’s relationship with Turkey,” Wyden said.

Other lawmaker saw the details in Bolton’s book as a political rallying cry for Democrats.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) argued that the revelations make it more important than ever for Democrats to go to the polls in November.

“There is no new piece of evidence, or crime or moral transgression that will cause congressional republicans to do the right thing and stand up to trump,” Schatz tweeted. “We just have to beat them up and down the ticket.”

Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) quipped that Republican members of Congress will likely plead ignorance of the book excerpts.

“Really looking forward to a whole bunch of Republicans in Congress claiming they haven’t seen the Bolton excerpts,” Cicilline said in a tweet.

Whether the Senate would call Bolton to testify was the big question mark of the impeachment hearings that otherwise everyone knew would most likely end with Trump’s acquittal.

During the Senate impeachment hearings in January, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked the White House defense team why the Senate shouldn’t call Bolton, someone who would have direct knowledge of what went on with Ukraine.

A White House lawyer argued that the Senate’s role was to decide whether the information in the House’s articles of impeachment warranted removal from office, not to gather new evidence.

Murkowski ultimately voted against calling Bolton to testify, blaming the House for a “rushed and flawed” impeachment probe. Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine) were the only Republicans to vote in favor of hearing from Bolton.

Last September, the day before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that the House would mount an official impeachment inquiry against the president, Bolton told Engel in a phone call that the House Foreign Affairs Committee should investigate why former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had been recalled. Bolton indicated that he had more information to divulge on the matter, according to a statement that Engel put out about the conversation during the Senate’s impeachment trial.

At that point, reports had been circulating for a few days that a whistleblower complaint stating Trump was holding up congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to get that country’s president to investigate the Bidens, and the debate about whether the Ukraine allegations would turn into an impeachment investigation was playing out in the open.

Bolton’s tip about Yovanovitch was unprompted, according to Engel, and he offered no similar tip regarding China, then or since, according to a person familiar with their conversation.

Then, in the final days of the impeachment hearings, details from the book leaked about Bolton’s allegation that Trump had been trying to tie U.S. aid to Ukraine to that country launching an investigation into the Bidens and the Democratic Party.

Romney was the first Republican to say the revelations had convinced him they needed to hear from Bolton. While other Republicans said they considered it, only Collins voted with Romney.

“If Members of Congress repeatedly solicited foreign countries to help our re-election campaigns, we would go to prison,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted. “Illegal to work with a foreign power to help your campaign. @realDonaldTrump would likely be in prison if he weren’t President.”

Karoun Demirjian and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.