Politics

Bolton's mystery Ukraine meetings could point back to connections between Trump and Putin

On Friday, Charles Cooper, a lawyer for former National Security Advisor John Bolton, indicated that Bolton was involved in Ukraine-related meetings that had not yet become part of the public record. And these were not just any meetings, but “many relevant meetings and conversations” implying that they are directly connected to the scandal at the heart of Trump’s impeachment.

When the House impeachment inquiry began, it was pulling essentially on just one thread — the phone call that Donald Trump made to Ukrainian President Zelensky on July 25 and the way in which transcripts of that call were handled in the days and weeks that followed. But as the House has questioned witnesses about those events, the timeline has expanded to show that Trump’s effort to strong-arm Ukraine into giving him political dirt for the 2020 election started well before, and extended well after, that call.

One of the most critical events now appears to be a pair of meetings that happened on July 10. The first of those meetings happened in the office of then National Security Advisor John Bolton, and included all three of the “amigos” — special envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — along with NSC officials Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman. At that meeting, the efforts to demand that Ukraine buckle to demands for investigations into Joe Biden and a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election grew so odious, that Bolton abruptly ended the officla meeting. Afterward, Volker and Sondland took Ukrainian officials downstairs and made those demands even more explicit, with Vindman and Hill as witnesses.

Bolton expressed evident disgust with what was happening in Ukraine, calling it a “drug deal” being handled by Sondland and Rudy Giuliani. Bolton also encouraged both Hill and Vindman to take the matter to White House attorney John Eisenberg … which seems to have resulted only in Eisenberg slamming down secrecy barriers. 

House impeachment investigators already wanted to talk to Bolton based on the number of times his name appeared in existing testimony and his actions on July 10. But in a letter replying to the House request for Bolton’s testimony, Cooper opens up the possibility that there’s a whole sweater’s worth of threads left to unravel.

Exactly what Bolton’s attorney was referring to remains an almost perfect mystery. It was clear during his final months in the White House that Bolton and Trump where almost constantly butting heads, with Bolton excused from many events and duties that would ordinarily have fallen to the National Security Advisor. But more reports at the time indicated that these had to do with Bolton’s disagreement with Trump over handling of events in Afghanistan, or his dealing with North Korea, or the still crumbling nuclear arrangement with Iran (which Bolton wanted to crumbed faster).

No matter how much long time State Department officials were concerned about the disarrangement of much-admired Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, it seems unlikely that Bolton would have been directly involved in any meeting having to do with replacing her. And while Rudy Giuliani may have been frequently updating Trump on his efforts to win friends and rake down cash in Kyiv, that topic also seems unlikely to have been something that involved Bolton, especially since Trump and his NSA never appeared to be buddies.

But there’s one big possibility for what else Bolton might know that would definitely involve Trump, definitely involve Ukraine, and definitely concern national security.

Bolton became National Security Advisor on April 9, 2018. That puts him in place just in time for the July 2018 meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Following that meeting, Putin had plenty to say about Ukraine. All of it about what Trump had surrendered to Russia.

If the information coming from Russia is an accurate account of Trump’s agreement, it seems to suggest that Trump would cede Crimea to Russia on a vote of the majority. And this offer doesn’t seem to be limited to Crimea. The wording of the statement suggests that other areas occupied by Russian-supported rebels and by Russian troops playacting as rebels could also be allowed to join up with Russia after a vote.

The “other areas” mentioned at the time would be the Donbass region, an area where Ukraine has now done exactly what Putin claimed Trump agreed to back in July. If there are additional meetings on Ukraine that featured John Bolton, they may well be focused more on what Trump was offering to Russia, at the same time he was withholding funds and arms necessary to fight against Russian invasion.

Because Trump’s Russia scandal and Trump’s Ukraine scandal, are the same scandal.
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