WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump told a then-top aide in August he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
Trump’s statement was described in an unpublished manuscript by former White House national security adviser John Bolton, the
Times reported in an article that did not quote directly from the document.
The newspaper said the reported statement could undercut a key element of Trump’s impeachment defense: that the aid delay was separate from his requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm. The elder Biden is a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the New York Times report, nor did Jay Sekulow, who is helping lead the Republican president’s defense.
The newspaper report landed the day before Trump’s lawyers resume their defense in his Senate impeachment trial and could strengthen demands from Democrats that the 100-member chamber subpoena witnesses as well as documents.
The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abusing the powers of his office by asking Ukraine to investigate Biden and of obstructing a congressional inquiry into his conduct.
Democrats have said they are eager to hear testimony by Bolton, who was involved, as his own lawyer said, in “many relevant meetings and conversations” involving issues at the heart of Trump’s impeachment.
Bolton left his post in September after disagreements with the president. Trump said he fired him. Bolton said he quit.
Trump’s defense argued neither impeachment charge constituted a crime or impeachable offense, that he was within his rights as president to make decisions about foreign policy and what information to give Congress, and that the House pursued a flawed and one-sided process before impeaching him.
While the Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to remove Trump from office, he is seeking to limit political damage to his bid for a second term in the Nov. 3 election.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Pete Schroeder, Arshad Mohammed and Karen Freifeld; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann and Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Peter Cooney