By Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Monday he is willing to testify in the expected Senate impeachment trial of the president, a surprise development that could complicate a weeks-long dispute over how the trial would play out.
“If the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” Bolton said in a prepared statement. He declined further comment.
Democrats have been pressing for Bolton and three senior administration officials to testify as part of the Senate trial, while Trump’s fellow Republicans are seeking a quick trial that could lead to the president’s expected acquittal before the 2020 presidential election campaign heats up. The two sides have not come close to an agreement, aides say.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi – the top Democrat in Congress – has yet to send the House-approved articles of impeachment to the Senate, putting a hold on any schedule for a trial.
Pelosi and other top Democrats said Bolton’s statement bolstered their case for calling witnesses at an impeachment trial.
“If any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we have requested they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover up,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a prepared statement.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As Trump’s top national security official, Bolton had first-hand knowledge of many of the events that form the basis of the impeachment case against the president. He left the White House in September.
The Democratic-led House has charged Trump with abusing his power for personal gain by asking Ukraine to announce a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in November’s presidential election.
It also charged the president with obstructing Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
Bolton did not testify in the House’s impeachment probe, but other witnesses said he objected to an effort by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine outside official diplomatic channels.
Bolton’s lawyer said during the investigation that Bolton had information about meetings and discussions that had not yet been made public.
But he said he would not participate in the investigation until a court ruled whether his former deputy, Charles Kupperman, should be forced to cooperate.
A federal judge dismissed Kupperman’s case last week without ruling whether administration officials should obey congressional subpoenas. Bolton said in light of that ruling that he would be willing to cooperate.
McConnell, who Pelosi accuses of working to protect the president, said on Friday a trial cannot begin until the charges are formally sent to the chamber.
The earliest the House could take any action would be on Tuesday when it reconvenes, but top Democrats have given no sign they are set to move this week.
Trump says he did nothing wrong and has dismissed his impeachment as a partisan bid to undo his 2016 election win.
The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans 53-47, is unlikely to vote to find the president guilty and remove him from office, an act that would take a two-thirds majority.
Democrats have been hopeful they could persuade a few Republicans to side with them on their push for witnesses, which would require only a simple majority and could unearth evidence damaging to Trump.
“It is now up to four Senate Republicans to support bringing in Mr. Bolton,” Schumer said.