John Bolton called Giuliani ‘a hand grenade’, testimony reveals

Adviser opposed Trump lawyer’s efforts to pressure Ukraine, committee reportedly told

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer: The testimony revealed in a powerful way just how divisive his efforts to extract damaging information about Democrats from Ukraine were within the White House.  Photograph:  Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer: The testimony revealed in a powerful way just how divisive his efforts to extract damaging information about Democrats from Ukraine were within the White House. Photograph: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

 

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr Bolton got into a sharp exchange on July 10th with Gordon Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people in the room who heard the testimony.

Mr Bolton instructed Fiona Hill, the senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs, to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr Sondland, Mr Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, with legal implications, Ms Hill told the investigators, according to the people familiar the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Rudy and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people familiar with the testimony. (Another person in the room initially said Mr Bolton referred to Mr Giuliani and Mr Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr Sondland.)

It was not the first time Mr Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms Hill about Mr Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms Hill quoted Mr Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

The testimony revealed in a powerful way just how divisive Mr Giuliani’s efforts to extract damaging information about Democrats from Ukraine on Mr Trump’s behalf were within the White House.

Ms Hill testified that Mr Giuliani and his allies circumvented the usual national security process to run their own rump foreign policy, leaving the president’s official advisers aware of the rogue operation yet powerless to stop it.

In charge of Ukraine

At one point, Ms Hill confronted Mr Sondland, who had inserted himself into dealings with Ukraine even though it was not part of his official portfolio, according to the people informed about Ms Hill’s testimony. He told her that he was in charge of Ukraine, a moment she compared to secretary of state Alexander Haig’s declaration that he was in charge after the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt, according to those who heard the testimony.

According to whom, she asked. The president, he answered.

Former US national security adviser John Bolton: “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Fiona Hill quoted Mr Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation, in testimony to a House committee on Monday. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Former US national security adviser John Bolton: “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Fiona Hill quoted Mr Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation, in testimony to a House committee on Monday. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Ms Hill was the first former White House official to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, and her account provided a gripping in-the-room view of the shadow manoeuvres that have jeopardised Mr Trump’s presidency. While she left her post shortly before the now-famous July 25th telephone call in which Mr Trump pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats, she helped House investigators understand the early months of the pressure campaign.

The day-long interview with Ms Hill came as House Democrats widened their net in the fast-paced inquiry by summoning Michael McKinley, a senior adviser to secretary of state Mike Pompeo who abruptly resigned last week, to testify on Wednesday.

Career diplomats have expressed outrage at the unceremonious removal of ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from Ukraine after she came under attack by Mr Giuliani, Donald Trump jnr and two associates who have since been arrested on charges of campaign violations.

The interviews indicated that House Democrats were proceeding full tilt with their inquiry despite the administration’s declaration last week that it would refuse to co-operate with what it called an invalid and unconstitutional impeachment effort. Three other administration officials were scheduled to talk with investigators this week despite the White House statement. Mr Sondland, who backed out of testifying at the last minute last week on orders of the state department, is now set to appear on Thursday.

George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state who deals with the region, is scheduled to testify on Tuesday. And the committee on Monday set an interview for Friday with Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia policy.

Nine hours

Ms Hill’s testimony, which unfolded behind closed doors over nine hours in the secure rooms of the House intelligence committee on Capitol Hill, had been highly anticipated because of her position in a key job co-ordinating policy toward Russia, Ukraine and the rest of Europe.

Fiona Hill, Donald Trump’s former adviser on Russia and Europe, arriving on Capitol Hill on Monday. Photograph: Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Fiona Hill, Donald Trump’s former adviser on Russia and Europe, arriving on Capitol Hill on Monday. Photograph: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The House intelligence committee issued a last-minute subpoena on Monday morning to compel Ms Hill to speak with the investigators, according to an official involved in the investigation, to make it easier for her to justify ignoring the White House’s clear opposition to co-operation with the House inquiry.

Ms Hill testified that she opposed the idea of July 25th telephone call between Mr Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine because she did not understand its purpose. While it was described as a congratulatory call following parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Mr Trump had already made a congratulatory call to Mr Zelenskiy in April following his own election.

She was not told that Mr Trump would use the call to press for an investigation into Mr Biden, nor did she know about the president’s decision to withhold $391 million in US assistance to Ukraine until shortly before her departure, according to the person informed about her account.

Her testimony does not establish a quid pro quo between the suspended aid and Mr Trump’s pressure for investigations, the person said. But she would confirm that the administration leveraged a coveted White House invitation for Mr Zelenskiy to a commitment to investigate corruption, which was seen as code for investigating Democrats.

Mr Hill is a widely respected, British-born former Brookings Institution scholar and intelligence officer. She is the author, with Clifford Gaddy, of Mr Putin, a critical biography of the Russian leader, and she was appointed senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs on the National Security Council staff in 2017. She turned over her duties to her successor on July 15th and left on July 19th, just days before the July 25th call. – New York Times