President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as National Security Adviser John Bolton listens during a meeting with President of Romania Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House August 20, 2019 in Washington, DC.
WH sends formal threat to keep Bolton from publishing book
02:53 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel revealed publicly for the first time on Wednesday that he spoke with former national security adviser John Bolton in September about the ouster of former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

In a statement, Engel, a New York Democrat, said that during a phone conversation on September 23, Bolton suggested to him that the Foreign Affairs panel “look into” the ambassador’s recall and “strongly implied that something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kyiv.”

LIVE UPDATES: Impeachment trial of President Trump

While Engel said in his statement that he informed investigative colleagues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office told CNN she was not aware of the conversation before a formal impeachment inquiry was announced on September 24, the day after the Engel-Bolton call occurred.

Yovanovitch is the former top US diplomat in Ukraine and testified before House lawmakers as part of the impeachment inquiry over the Ukraine scandal. In public testimony, she said that she was “shocked and devastated” after learning that President Donald Trump had disparaged her in his now-famous July phone call with the Ukrainian president, while a tweet from the President attacking her during the impeachment inquiry hearing sparked a real-time response and new Democratic accusations of witness intimidation.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat

News of the conversation between Engel and Bolton comes as the Senate is moving quickly toward a determination on whether to allow additional witnesses to testify as part of its impeachment trial of the President. Democrats have urged the Senate to call Bolton as a witness and those calls intensified this week in the wake of a bombshell New York Times report detailing an unpublished draft manuscript by Bolton.

Citing multiple people’s description of the manuscript, the Times reported that Bolton claims Trump told him in August that he wanted to continue holding military aid to Ukraine until the country helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden – claims that the President denied. Bolton has also said that he is willing to testify if he is subpoenaed in the impeachment trial.

In his statement, Engel pushed back against an assertion by the President, saying, “President Trump is wrong that John Bolton didn’t say anything about the Trump-Ukraine Scandal at the time the President fired him. He said something to me.”

He went on to add, “At the time, I said nothing publicly about what was a private conversation, but because this detail was relevant to the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight Committees’ investigation into this matter, I informed my investigative colleagues. It was one of the reasons we wished to hear from Ambassador Bolton, under oath, in a formal setting.”

“Ambassador Bolton has made clear over the last few months that he has more to say on this issue. And now that the President has called his credibility into question, it’s important to set the record straight, Engel said.

Asked why Engel revealed the call with Bolton now, an aide told CNN that the Foreign Affairs chairman was responding to a tweet sent by Trump earlier Wednesday that said: ‘Why didn’t John Bolton complain about this ‘nonsense’ a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!’

Engel was very reluctant to disclose details of a private call but the record needed to be cleared up, the aide said.

Engel has previously expressed concerns about the impropriety of Yovanovitch’s ouster.

He and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the attacks on her on April 12 and released a public statement on May 7 calling her recall “a political hit job and the latest in this Administration’s campaign against career State Department personnel.”

In response to their private letter, the State Department’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs claimed that Yovanovitch was completing her three year post in coordination with the presidential transition in Kiev, according to a June letter turned over to the watchdog group American Oversight.

CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Paul LeBlanc and Manu Raju contributed to this report.