Things just got stickier for Attorney General William Barr.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book manuscript appears to contradict Justice Department assertions about how and when Barr first learned that President Donald Trump mentioned him on a now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The New York Times first reported on Bolton’s book Sunday, including the startling new claim that Bolton told Barr that Trump had mentioned him during the call. During the conversation, Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Trump’s political rivals and told him, “I will tell Rudy [Giuliani] and Attorney General Barr to call.”
According to statements by the Justice Department and previous reporting from the New York Times, Barr only found out about the call in mid-August, when a CIA officer’s whistleblower’s complaint about it reached the Justice Department for a potential criminal referral.
But Bolton’s assertion contradicts that timeline.
Bolton reportedly claims in his book that he raised concerns about Rudy Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy with Barr after the President’s July phone call, and that he told Barr Trump had mentioned him on the call. On Monday, the Times reporter Michael Schmidt — one of the reporters who broke the news about Bolton’s book — described Bolton as telling Barr about the call “right after” it occurred.
That directly conflicts with what the Justice Department has said about Barr’s knowledge of the call. A Barr spokesperson denied to the Times that he learned about the call from Bolton.
On Sept. 25, the same day the White House released its record of the call after news of it became public, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement: “The Attorney General was first notified of the President’s conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky several weeks after the call took place, when the Department of Justice learned of a potential referral.”
The statement flatly denied that Trump had spoken to Barr “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” which was seen at the time as a potential effort to distance the Justice Department from Trump’s behavior on the call with Zelensky.
Kupec also claimed on Sept. 25 that the DOJ determined in August that Trump’s actions on the call with Zelensky did not violate campaign finance law.
The New York Times reported on Sept. 26, citing multiple unnamed people familiar with the events, that Barr learned of the call after CIA general counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood informed the White House about it, and after lower-level DOJ officials had been looped in.
Sunday’s Times report on Bolton’s book appears to undercut that version of events.
Also in August, the intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson received the whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s call and submitted it for review to Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Maguire went to the Justice Department with the complaint, asking if it detailed an “urgent concern” that he was required to transmit to Congress.
In a Sept. 3 opinion, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel determined the complaint wasn’t urgent — and therefore that it could be kept under wraps.
Had the story ended there — had Atkinson not complained to Congress about Maguire’s actions — Trump may not have faced an impeachment inquiry and trial in the first place.
The news that Bolton’s first-hand account contradicts the Justice Department’s claims about the timeline of these events could amplify calls for Barr to testify and share documents about what he knew, and when. Kupec did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.