STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been listening along with us and is on the line. Mara, good morning.
MARA LIASSON, HOST:
INSKEEP: What struck your ear?
LIASSON: Well, what was really interesting is, of course, there was so much talk about Bolton in the testimony before the House Judiciary, House Intelligence Committee.
LIASSON: He was the highest-ranking White House official who, according to testimony, pushed back against the idea of withholding aid - military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine announcing an investigation into Joe Biden.
INSKEEP: Let's listen to a little bit of that and then discuss it. This is testimony from Fiona Hill, who worked at the National Security Council. So she's working under John Bolton at this point. It's 2019. It's mid-2019. This effort is going forward to get investigations in Ukraine. And Fiona Hill recounts a conversation with Bolton.
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FIONA HILL: And asked if there was anything that we could do about it. And Ambassador Bolton had looked pained, basically indicated with body language that there was nothing much that we could do about it. And he then, in the course of that discussion, said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up.
INSKEEP: If Bolton did believe, as Hill testified, that this was so wrong to be doing, why not tell investigators about it?
LIASSON: Well, you know, he told Fiona Hill to tell lawyers about it. So he definitely took steps that would create a record of his feelings. He also told her to tell the lawyers that, quote, "I am not part of whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up." According to White House officials I've talked to, he did try in other venues to get the frozen aid unfrozen. And it was finally unfrozen just as he was being fired or forced to resign. And at the same time, the whistleblower report had come out, and the House was starting an investigation. But, you know, he explained to you that he's in court. He's asking the judicial branch to referee this separation-of-powers clash between the president, who says he shouldn't testify, and the House, who says he should. And he's waiting for the results of that case.
INSKEEP: Is it purely a matter of constitutional principle for those officials who've chosen not to step forward? Or is there something more on the line if you are going to be a Republican and a former White House official or a professional national security person and decide whether to testify or not to testify?
LIASSON: Well, you know, Bolton has said over and over again, I have a lot to say, and I will say it in due course. I think that right now the reason he's not talking is because of the court case. He believes in strong executive power. I think he'd like the executive to win the case. But if he did talk about the Ukraine episode, it would undermine his case in court. As a matter of fact, there are people who say that Mick Mulvaney, who did get a subpoena and is defying the subpoena - if the House took him to court to enforce that subpoena, Mulvaney has already undermined his case because he did talk about the Ukrainian episode in that famous briefing that he gave at the White House.
INSKEEP: Oh, which is why he avoided our questions in that interview because he would face much more pressure to testify under oath.
LIASSON: Well, yeah. And he'd be undermining his own case if he goes and talks about it because he's in court asking the court to decide if he should.
INSKEEP: Really interesting conversation. And, Mara, thanks for putting it all in perspective for us. Really appreciate it.
LIASSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Happy holidays. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.