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Former Bolton Aide On How Bolton Factored Into The Impeachment Inquiry Hearings


Witnesses have name-dropped certain Trump administration officials throughout the public impeachment hearings. One name that came up again and again today was former national security adviser John Bolton. His former aide at the White House, Fiona Hill, said Bolton was so alarmed about a campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate President Trump's political rivals that he described it as a drug deal and told her to report it to a top lawyer at the National Security Council. For some insight now into Bolton's character, we're joined by someone who used to work for him, Mark Groombridge.


MARK GROOMBRIDGE: Pleasure to be here.

CHANG: So I understand you worked for Bolton when he was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. You were an aide. How would you describe your personal relationship with Bolton currently?

GROOMBRIDGE: We parted ways over his support for Donald Trump. I - you know, I consider myself a never-Trump Republican. I know there's only three of us left, but I'm firmly in that camp.

CHANG: OK. That said, you worked with him for some time, and we're going to ask you to maybe probe a little into your reflections on his character because one thing that we heard a lot today from Fiona Hill is that Bolton was very uncomfortable with what he called the drug deal the White House was cooking up with Ukraine; that is this White House meeting to be exchanged for an announcement of political investigations. Bolton is known for being a stickler for process. That's something that our NPR reporters have discussed on air. Do you think Bolton was uncomfortable with this so-called drug deal because it violated protocol or because there was some deeper moral compass inspiring his discomfort?

GROOMBRIDGE: Oh, I absolutely believe it was both. While Bolton and I have not spoken in 2 1/2 years, I genuinely believe Ambassador Bolton was trying to protect President Trump from Mayor Giuliani, chief of staff Mulvaney and Ambassador Sondland - three individuals he thought were trying to just curry favor with the president, regardless of whether that helped the president in the long term or undermined U.S. national security interests.

CHANG: Oh, that's interesting. You think - Bolton's strong language because he was being protective of President Trump.

GROOMBRIDGE: I think it was both. Ambassador Bolton will be a champion in one sense because he will shed light on the disorder in the White House. Chief of staff Mulvaney's philosophy of let Trump be Trump, I think, Ambassador Bolton will view as a huge mistake. Sure, the president sets policy, but Ambassador Bolton understands that you need to protect the president from crossing certain lines. He's a unique president, someone who's not steeped in - you know, in political protocol or political understanding. The awkward question he's going to have to answer, of course, is, what more did he do to protect Trump? He encouraged subordinates to file and record their concerns - for example, Dr. Hill...

CHANG: Right.

GROOMBRIDGE: ...Who testified very powerfully today with White House counsel Eisenberg. But what did Ambassador Bolton do to register his concern?

CHANG: And getting to...

GROOMBRIDGE: How far was he going to go?

CHANG: And getting to that awkward question of what more did he do to protect President Trump, why do you think Bolton is refusing to testify in the impeachment inquiry so far?

GROOMBRIDGE: I think it's a twofold answer. One is that he still wants to be - and this is going to sound a little disconcerting to some of your listeners - a player in Republican politics. Throwing Trump under the bus or shiving (ph) him is not going to help his cause. But I genuinely believe - and to go back to what I said earlier - he was trying to protect him. And I think that he understands that the best way he can protect himself is - both politically but also professionally is to make certain there is a court order that says, hey, you've got to appear before Congress.

CHANG: All right, in the last 30 seconds we have left, speaking more broadly, you're a Republican who has worked in and out of government. How do you think Republican lawmakers are handling this whole impeachment inquiry?

GROOMBRIDGE: You know, I'm not particularly impressed. I think that they've gone after process issues. But I think that...

CHANG: All right.

GROOMBRIDGE: Every witness has been incredibly persuasive and honest and shown that they're - you know, they're truly loyal to the U.S. government.

CHANG: And we'll have to leave it there. That's Mark Groombridge, a former chief of staff for John Bolton at the U.N.

Thank you very much.

GROOMBRIDGE: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.