More than two months before he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponents, President Trump directed John R. 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help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton.
Mr. Trump gave the instruction, Mr. 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 Rudolph W. Giuliani and the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, who is now leading the president’s impeachment defense.
Mr. Trump told Mr. Bolton to call Volodymyr Zelensky, who had recently won election as president of Ukraine, to ensure Mr. Zelensky would meet with Mr. Giuliani, who was planning a trip to Ukraine to discuss the investigations that the president sought, in Mr. Bolton’s account. Mr. Bolton never made the call, he wrote.
The previously undisclosed directive that Mr. Bolton describes would be the earliest known instance of Mr. Trump seeking to harness the power of the United States government to advance his pressure campaign against Ukraine, as he later did on the July call with Mr. Zelensky that triggered a whistle-blower 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 Mr. Trump, whose lawyers have said he did nothing wrong.
The account in Mr. 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 Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mulvaney, only to be blocked by the White House.
In a statement after this article was published, Mr. Trump denied the discussion that Mr. 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 N.Y.C., to meet with President Zelensky,” Mr. Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”
In a brief interview, Mr. Giuliani denied that the conversation took place and said those discussions with the president were always kept separate. He was adamant that Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Mulvaney were never involved in meetings related to Ukraine.
“It is absolutely, categorically untrue,” he said.
Neither Mr. Bolton nor a representative for Mr. Mulvaney responded to requests for comment.
Mr. Bolton described the roughly 10-minute conversation in drafts of his book, a memoir of his time as national security adviser that is to go on sale in March. Over several pages, Mr. Bolton laid out Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Bolton warned that Mr. Giuliani was “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”
Mr. Bolton’s account matches up with a timeline of other developments in the Ukraine affair. On May 9, The New York Times disclosed that Mr. Giuliani was planning to travel to Ukraine to press for the investigations sought by Mr. Trump, saying, “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.” The following day, Mr. Giuliani sent a letter to Mr. Zelensky seeking a meeting later in May “with the knowledge and consent” of Mr. Trump.
Within weeks, with Mr. Giuliani’s request to meet with Mr. Zelensky proving unsuccessful, Mr. Trump would empower a group of American diplomats to work with Mr. Giuliani to continue pressing Ukraine to agree to his desire for the investigations, according to testimony in the House impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump also repeatedly made national security decisions contrary to American interests, Mr. Bolton wrote, describing a pervasive sense of alarm among top advisers about the president’s choices. Mr. Bolton expressed concern to others in the administration that the president was effectively granting favors to autocratic leaders like Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Xi Jinping of China.
The Times reported this week on another revelation from Mr. Bolton’s book draft: that Mr. Trump told him in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter. That account undercuts a key element of the White House impeachment defense — that the aid holdup was separate from his requests for inquiries. Mr. Trump has denied the conversation took place.
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