WASHINGTON – More than two months before he asked Ukraine's president to investigate his political opponents, President Donald Trump directed John Bolton, then his national security adviser, to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript by Bolton.
Trump gave the instruction, Bolton wrote, during an Oval Office conversation in early May that included the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney; the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is now leading the president's impeachment defense.
Trump told Bolton to call Volodymyr Zelensky, who had recently won election as president of Ukraine, to ensure Zelensky would meet with Giuliani, who was planning a trip to Ukraine to discuss the investigations that Trump sought, in Bolton's account. Bolton never made the call, he wrote.
The previously undisclosed directive that Bolton describes would be the earliest known instance of Trump seeking to harness the power of the U.S. government to advance his pressure campaign against Ukraine, as he later did on the July call with Zelensky that triggered a whistleblower complaint and impeachment proceedings. House Democrats have accused him of abusing his authority and are arguing their case before senators in the impeachment trial of Trump, whose lawyers have said he did nothing wrong.
The account in Bolton's manuscript portrays the most senior White House advisers as early witnesses in the effort that they have sought to distance the president from. And disclosure of the meeting underscores the kind of information Democrats were looking for in seeking testimony from his top advisers in their impeachment investigation, including Bolton and Mulvaney, only to be blocked by the White House.
In a statement after this article was published, Trump denied the discussion that Bolton described.
"I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelensky," Trump said. "That meeting never happened."
Giuliani denied that the conversation took place and said those discussions with the president were always kept separate. He was adamant that Cipollone and Mulvaney were never involved in meetings related to Ukraine.
"It is absolutely, categorically untrue," he said.
Neither Bolton nor a representative for Mulvaney responded to requests for comment.
Bolton described the roughly 10-minute conversation in drafts of his book, a memoir of his time as national security adviser. Over several pages, Bolton laid out Trump's fixation on Ukraine and the president's belief, based on a mix of scattershot events, assertions and outright conspiracy theories, that Ukraine tried to undermine his chances of winning the presidency in 2016.
As he began to realize the extent and aims of the pressure campaign, Bolton began to object, he wrote in the book, affirming the testimony of a former National Security Council aide, Fiona Hill, who had said that Bolton warned that Giuliani was "a hand grenade who's going to blow everybody up."