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Legal scholars explain why John Bolton’s book could expose Trump lawyers to criminal liability

Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead

Over the weekend, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt reported in the New York Times that former National Security Adviser John Bolton — in an unpublished  manuscript of his new book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” due out March 17 — asserts that President Donald Trump and his allies directly tied military aid to Ukraine with an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. This was the “quid pro quo” that House Democrats alleged during their impeachment hearings last year and continue to allege in Trump’s impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate. And legal writer Jerry Lambe, in an article for Law & Crime, reports that the Bolton’s assertion might subject Trump’s lawyers to criminal exposure.


“The threshold question is whether the president’s attorneys were aware of the information contained in the manuscript,” Lambe explains. “According to a letter from Bolton’s attorney, Charles J. Cooper, the White House was made aware of the book on December 30. The bombshell revelations reportedly therein could not only change tenor of the Senate trial by forcing the chamber to hear from witnesses such as Bolton — they may place the president’s impeachment attorneys in a precarious position.”

On Sunday night, attorney Mark S. Zaid tweeted, “At least some members of Trump’s legal team also likely knew of Bolton’s knowledge which, if so, potentially subjects them to criminal perjury charges or legal disciplinary actions for their statements before the Senate.”

Zaid is representing the government whistleblower who set off the Ukraine scandal and Trump’s impeachment. That whistleblower reported that during a July 25 phone conversation, Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating the Bidens.

Lambe reports that Bolton’s description of a “quid pro quo” in his book — military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of the Bidens — is “particularly concerning to White House attorneys such as Pat Cipollone, who represents the Office of the President, as opposed to attorney Jay Sekulow, who is Trump’s personal lawyer.”

On Monday, Ross Garber (a legal analyst for CNN) tweeted that that “lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office” should be “zealously protecting presidential rights, immunities, privileges” but not “distorting facts.”

Following the publication of Haberman and Schmidt’s article, Trump tweeted, “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

Conservative attorney George Conway, who is one of Trump’s fiercest critics on the right, tweeted the Haberman/Schmidt article and wrote that “the Times specifically reports that the manuscript ‘intensified concerns among some of his advisers that they needed to block Mr. Bolton from testifying, according to two people familiar with their concerns.’”

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