Trump administration officials have questioned ousted White House national security adviser John Bolton’s credibility in the wake of reports that he regarded the Ukraine phone call controversy as a major scandal that evolved at staffers’ hands.
According to a number of officials, there was arguably no backlash at the NSC when the Ukraine controversy first erupted.
“John Bolton never complained to me about it", acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday. “No one at NSC ever complained to me about anything that was going on".
The comment effectively dismissed earlier claims that Bolton deemed President Trump’s push for Ukrainian investigations into the Democratic Party and former Vice President Joe Biden as little better than a “drug deal".
Another key figure in the controversy also shared his insight, which likewise comes as a rebuttal to the mainstream reports on Bolton’s stance about the implications of the presidential call in July.
“If Ambassador Bolton, Dr Hill, or others harboured any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later", Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the US envoy to the European Union, said Thursday in a prepared speech to House investigators.
“Neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly".
Sondland's testimony, along with Mulvaney’s comments, indicates that current Trump officials and their former colleagues could be at loggerheads, with the alleged dispute drawing attention from House investigators.
“I was just surprised that he said that, because I thought there would be more communication", Florida Rep. Francis Rooney, a Republican member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, commented on Sondland.
“There was plenty of communication going on, I was just surprised that he said Bolton didn't say anything to him".
Sondland and Mulvaney entered the debate, with the former subpoenaed after last week former National Security Council official and top Russia adviser Fiona Hill, who notably also worked closely with former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, reportedly testified behind closed doors that Bolton blasted them for “cooking up” the Ukraine controversy with Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. "Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up", Bolton reportedly told Hill.
The same stance is shared by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. "Rudy Giuliani has clearly been a leading force for the administration in defining a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. There was an official foreign policy, which was attempting to counter corruption in Ukraine", he said before going on to sum up: ”So you had two foreign policies that were working completely against each other”.
Mulvaney and Sondland stressed that they sought only for Ukraine to pursue an official policy - the kinds of decent corruption investigations that both Republicans and Democrats agree have to be conducted. They believe Bolton either chose not to get involved in the scandal or is allegedly masterminding an attack on Trump based on unverified criticism.
“Fiona Hill never got a chance to complain to [Sondland]", Mulvaney told Fox News’ Chris Wallace sarcastically. “[Hill] works for John Bolton. Yet, John Bolton didn't go say anything to anybody. Doesn't that raise a red flag?”
“There could be more specifics, for instance, like Fiona's description of her conversation with Bolton about the 'drug deal', so that would give more colour and more weight, more momentum", a former senior US official, discussing the apparent feud on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Examiner. “And then the question becomes, will more detail ultimately change minds?”
Bolton, whose White House tenure ended due to reported differences with Trump’s mindset, hasn’t testified before the committee yet, but House Democrats are mulling a subpoena for the sacked official, having already listened to the testimonies of Hill, Yovanovitch, Sondland and a few other officials, including former members of the administration.
“I'm sure he's got a lot of reasons why he might want to speak against the president, but I don't know", Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, a Democratic member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “They're issuing other subpoenas for witnesses next week so they may try to get him here. And, now that he's not officially working in the White House, he may have more leeway to want to come and speak", the congresswoman stated.
US President Donald Trump has been embroiled in a scandal surrounding his July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he was accused of asking his counterpart to “dig up dirt” on 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son, who were alleged to have been involved in a shadow corruption scheme tied to Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine.
Zelensky commented on the matter, saying the call was productive and there was by far no pressure exerted on him, noting tongue-in-cheek that the only person capable of pressuring him was his underage son.
The Ukraine call triggered an impeachment procedure against Trump in late September, with POTUS repeatedly asserting that his conversation with Zelensky was absolutely legal - a "perfect" exchange with no impeachable offences underlying it.
Amid the ongoing proceedings, testimony is being heard behind closed doors, causing Republicans to rant and rave, as they call for more transparency on the impeachment inquiry, which many have blasted as unconstitutional.