As Pelosi prepares to transfer impeachment articles, Trump signals he might block Bolton testimony

Trump said in an interview that he would "have to" invoke executive privilege to block John Bolton from testifying in the Senate trial.
Image: Nancy Pelosi And House Members Hold Meetings On Capitol Hill
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks back to her office after leaving the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 10, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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By Dartunorro Clark, Alex Moe, Rebecca Shabad and Julie Tsirkin

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers on Friday that she will consult with them Tuesday as she announced steps to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Pelosi's announcement comes as President Donald Trump says he'd block his former national security adviser from testifying in the Senate impeachment trial.

The speaker's letter suggested that the House could name its managers, who will act as the prosecutors for the Senate trial, and transmit the two articles of impeachment against the president as soon as next week. But Pelosi gave no specific indication of exactly when she intends to send the articles to the Senate, a step that is necessary for the trial to begin.

"I have asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate," she wrote. "I will be consulting with you at our Tuesday House Democratic Caucus meeting on how we proceed further."

"In an impeachment trial, every senator takes an oath to 'do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.' Every senator now faces a choice: to be loyal to the president or the Constitution," she continued.

Asked Friday morning if she would submit the articles to the Senate next week, Pelosi would only tell reporters at the Capitol, "We’ll see.”

Trump, in a Fox News interview excerpt released Friday, called Pelosi's actions "ridiculous," adding: "She should have sent them a long time ago. It just belittles the process."

Trump added that he thinks he would "have to" invoke executive privilege to block his former national security adviser John Bolton from testifying in the Senate impeachment trial, saying it would be "for the sake of the office."

When asked by Fox News' Laura Ingraham why he would not let Bolton testify, Trump said, "I have no problem, other than one thing: You can't be in the White House as president — future, I'm talking about future, many future presidents — and have a security adviser, anybody having to do with security, and legal and other things. ..."

Asked if he would invoke executive privilege, Trump said, "Well, I think you have to, for the sake of the office."

Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that he wouldn't mind a Senate deal on witnesses if it meant that his defense could also call people to testify who are of interest to Republicans. When asked whether he’d object to his former national security adviser testifying, Trump said it would be up to the Senate, but protecting executive privilege was critical.

The administration has tried to prevent several top officials from testifying in the House and Senate proceedings, frustrating Democrats who have called for their testimony. Bolton, a key figure in the impeachment saga who did not testify during the House inquiry, said earlier this week he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate.

Fighting over process

In her letter to colleagues on Friday, Pelosi sharply criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for actions that she said show his partiality toward Trump. McConnell has said he has enough Republican votes in the Senate to move forward with his plan for the impeachment trial without the support of the Democrats demanding witness testimony. He has also said that he is working in coordination with the White House counsel in preparation for the trial.

"For weeks now, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has been engaged in tactics of delay in presenting transparency, disregard for the American people’s interest for a fair trial and dismissal of the facts," Pelosi said.

"Leader McConnell’s tactics are a clear indication of the fear that he and President Trump have regarding the facts of the president’s violations for which he was impeached," she added.

When asked at the Capitol about Pelosi saying she could send the articles, McConnell simply responded, "About time." He later told reporters, "We’ve been asking to get started for the last, how many weeks has it been now? And we’ll get about it as soon as we can."

The majority leader added, "Look, we’re just getting started," when asked whether he thought the trial would need to be wrapped up before Trump delivers his State of the Union address early next month. "I'm glad we now have the option to do it. And it’s been a long wait, I’m glad it’s over."

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement on Pelosi's announcement that his Democratic colleagues "are ready for the trial to begin and will do everything we can to see that the truth comes out.”

Building pressure

Pelosi’s announcement comes after several Democrats in the House and Senate publicly said this week that she should relent and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, although some of those Democrats later walked back those statements.

For weeks, Democrats have been calling for the testimony of several top administration officials who they say had direct knowledge of Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, while withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to the country and a White House meeting for its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The speaker told reporters Thursday that she would send the articles “when I’m ready” and explicitly said she wouldn’t hold them “indefinitely,” but pressure has been building on her from within her own party as well as from Republicans to transmit them.

McConnell added to that pressure when he said Thursday that he supports a resolution offered by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., that would allow for the dismissal of the articles if Pelosi decided not to send them over.

McConnell has said the first phase of the trial would include "arguments from the prosecution, arguments from the defense" and a "period of written questions" submitted by senators of both parties. The majority leader, however, did not say whether Republicans would agree to hearing witness testimony, although he has said he would want the trial to adhere to the precedent set during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, in which the Senate decided later in the proceedings on whether to call witnesses.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the Senate president pro tempore and Finance Committee chairman, criticized Pelosi in a statement Friday for what he called her "pointless delay," saying the speaker threw Congress into "unnecessary chaos."

"From the beginning, it’s been unclear what the goal of this hurry-up-and-wait tactic was or what the country stood to gain," he said. "We now know the answer was nothing. We’ve had three needless weeks of uncertainty and confusion, causing even more division."

The trial will likely put the five Senate Democrats running for the Democratic presidential nomination at a disadvantage in the race, as they will need to be present for the trial to act effectively as jurors. The trial could begin ahead of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, both slated for early next month.

Hallie Jackson and Garrett Haake contributed.