WASHINGTON - John Bolton, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, said Monday that he is "prepared to testify" in a Senate impeachment trial - if he's subpoenaed by the GOP-controlled chamber.
"I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify," Bolton said in a statement Monday.
Bolton's unexpected statement - coming after he's played coy for weeks about what he knows and whether he would dish on Trump - plays into the hands of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democrats.
If Senate Republicans now refuse to subpoena Bolton and other witnesses, "they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover up," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said shortly after Bolton issued his statement.
Democrats want Bolton to testify, hoping he would be a bombshell witness in their case against Trump, which accuses the president of soliciting interference from Ukraine in the 2020 presidential election.
Bolton has hinted that he could offer new details about the Ukraine pressure campaign.
He was "personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony," his lawyer said in a November letter to House Democrats, "as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far."
On Monday, Bolton said he's tried to balance his obligations "as a citizen and as former National Security Adviser," portraying himself as torn between a presidential directive not to testify and a desire to comply with a congressional request for information.
But skeptics questioned the sincerity of Bolton's offer, saying the Republican-run Senate is unlikely to call any witnesses.
The House impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstructing Congress in a historic vote on Dec. 18. Pelosi has not yet sent the two articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial; she's held them back as leverage in her effort to pressure Republicans to call new witnesses during a Senate trial.
In November, Bolton defied a request from Democrats leading the House impeachment inquiry to testify. At the time, Bolton's lawyer told lawmakers he would take the impeachment committee to court if it subpoenaed him.
House Democrats decided not to subpoena Bolton during their probe, arguing it would delay their investigation with a protracted court battle; instead, they labeled Bolton's refusal to appear as evidence of obstruction.
Since the House vote, Schumer has pushed for summoning four witnesses who did not testify during the House inquiry, including Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has balked at calling any witnesses, pushing for a quick trial that would lead to Trump's acquittal. Republicans have criticized Pelosi for refusing to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, saying they have not yet been able to organize the trial.
There's no question Bolton, who clashed with Trump repeatedly and left the White House on acrimonious terms, could provide an insider's account of Trump's effort to pressure Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, for political favors.
According to Fiona Hill, one of Bolton's former deputies, Bolton was alarmed by the Ukraine pressure campaign, particularly the role of Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, played in carrying out that shadow foreign policy agenda. Hill said Bolton called Giuliani a "hand grenade" and referred to the Ukraine effort as a "drug deal" that would backfire on the White House.
Impeachment supporters welcomed the prospect of Bolton's testimony, saying he can shed light on the president's decision to temporarily block aid to Ukraine as he and others pressing Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit Trump in his 2020 re-election campaign.
"Good for you @AmbJohnBolton," tweeted Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general and author of a book on impeachment. "We are all Americans, united in our pursuit of the truth."
Katyal added; "I hope your White House colleagues, including President Trump, follow your lead and testify as well. The American people deserve no less."
But Barb McQuade, a former federal prosecutor, described Bolton's new statement as "a PR move" designed to help the former national security adviser sell copies of his forthcoming book.
"He is currently in a bad spot because he looks like he was willing to tell his story only for money, not for country," said McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan. "He is gambling that the Senate will not demand his testimony."
If McConnell does subpoena him, Bolton could always change his mind, citing executive privilege, McQuade said.
Others said that, depending on how the Senate trial's rules are written, a simple majority of senators could approve a subpoena - and a few GOP senators may want to hear from Bolton and others.
"Everyone saying 'yeah but the Senate won't subpoena Bolton' ... just chill for a moment," tweeted national security lawyer Bradley P. Moss. "Let the president stew with this new cycle for a few hours."
Moss told USA TODAY that "all eyes" would now be trained first on Trump, to see how he reacts to Bolton's statement, and then on a handful of moderate GOP senators who could potentially break with McConnell to demand testimony from Bolton and other witnesses.
Schumer said Sunday it would take only four Republican senators to join Democrats in the push for witnesses, and possibly new documents.
"We have the ability to require votes on the four witnesses we've asked for, whether there's agreement or not," Schumer said on ABC's This Week. "We have the ability to ask for the documents and I hope, pray, and believe there's a decent chance that four Republicans will join us."
The White House declined to comment on Bolton's statement.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: John Bolton says he's 'prepared to testify' in Trump impeachment trial