Skip To Content
BuzzFeed News Home Reporting To You

Impeachment Today Podcast: Will John Bolton Testify? And Who Is Haunting Trump This Halloween?

John Bolton, a fixture in hawkish Republican foreign policy circles for decades, has been asked to testify next week β€” and it could get wild.

Posted on October 31, 2019, at 1:22 p.m. ET

BuzzFeed News

It's Thursday, October 31th, 2019, 36 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. It's Halloween! And every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

In today's episode: Get ready for Boltonmania! Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor John Bolton, a fixture in hawkish Republican foreign policy circles for decades, has been asked to testify next week β€” and his displeasure with how President Trump treated the Ukrainian government means the testimony, if it happens, could get wild. And we have Miriam Elder, a former Russia correspondent and current politics writer, to talk about the Ukrainian prosecutors who might just be haunting Trump's dreams this Halloween.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Thursday, October 31, 2019, 37 days into the impeachment saga, and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. As of today, we've been doing this show for a week, a whole-ass week. If it feels like a lot longer to you, let me just say, same, big same. We've got a great show lined up for today. In keeping with the spirit of Halloween, we have BuzzFeed News politics reporter, Miriam Elder, on to talk about the former Ukrainian prosecutors who are now haunting Donald Trump. But before we get to all of that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

Wednesday's news managed, blessedly, to be mostly loose ends, without anything major shifting the landscape. So we'll run really quickly through a few of the highlights. House Democrats on Wednesday asked a bunch of people to come have a chit chat, including, most importantly, former national security advisor, John Bolton. And my guy had some stories to tell. Bolton's name has come up a bunch in the testimony so far. According to several people who worked under him, he was pretty opposed to some of the shadier or things that Trump's off-the-books, Ukraine policy B-team was pulling. He called Rudy Giuliani a, quote, hand grenade, according to one former NSC staffer. She also said Bolton called a White House meeting, where a US ambassador allegedly pushed Trump's quid pro quo on Ukrainian officials, a drug deal. Bolton left the administration back in September over disagreements with the president on Afghanistan and Syria policy. It was not on good terms. And he's reportedly been shopping around a book about his time in the White House.

All of that means Democrats are very interested in hearing from him. So is the Machiavellian mastermind, who liberals have called a mustachioed mad man, about to become a hero of the resistance? Well, not so fast. Bolton was invited to testify next week, but his lawyer says he won't do so voluntarily. Will he answer a subpoena, though? Probably. We're going to dive more into Bolton later. But he's a dude who loves the rules. And it's clear that whatever Trump was pulling with Ukraine went very much against those rules. So there's a non-zero chance he becomes the highest-ranking former official to speak his mind. Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing to vote on a resolution that will more clearly lay out the scope of the impeachment inquiry and how things will go, moving forward.

We'll have details about what's changed tomorrow, once the thing passes, which it absolutely will, even without Republican votes. And finally, Politico cleared up a minor mystery about why Donald Trump has claimed he's never met one of his top Ukraine advisors. Apparently, he'd been taking advice from someone else entirely. According to testimony this week, a National Security Council staffer, named Kashyap Patel, was basically cosplaying as Trump's Ukraine Chief. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the guy who really had that job, said that after traveling to Ukraine for the President's inauguration, he was excited to debrief Trump. But his bosses basically told him, "Can you sit this one out so we don't confuse president Trump?" Encouraging.

And now, if you're a numbers person and just want to know where today ranks, we have today's spectral reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, a zero is a normal day in a normal White House, and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning, we're at a four and a half. The narrative didn't shift much on Wednesday, even as new details emerge. The big picture got a tiny bit sharper, but there's still a lot of pieces to fill in.

Okay. After the break, we talk to Miriam Elder about the former Ukrainian prosecutors whose spirits are basically haunting the White House. Stick around.

Welcome back. Every episode here, on Impeachment Today, we take the time to dive into one aspect of the impeachment proceedings that really deserves our attention: a person, an event, an idea. Today, we've got a new edition of This Fucking Guy. So there's been a shit ton of names flying around, most of them extremely Ukrainian. But in the spooky episode today, we're going to focus on two of them who have been haunting the president, both former top prosecutors in Ukraine, Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko. We've got Miriam Elder, formerly Russia correspondent from The Guardian, and currently a politics reporter here at Buzzfeed, to chat about them. Thank you for being in the booth today, Miriam.

Miriam Elder:

Thanks for having me, Hayes.

Hayes Brown:

So you moved off the world desk to cover Trump's reelection. Now, here you are, back talking Eastern Europe. Isn't that good times?

ME:

There's no such thing as a former Russia reporter.

HB:

Okay, so these two guys, both were prosecutor general in Ukraine, which was basically like attorney general here in the US. So let's start with Shokin. Who was he, and why does he kind of seem to hate Joe Biden?

ME:

So Viktor Shokin was a prosecutor that came to power at this time in Ukraine when everybody was still really excited that the country had turned a new corner, and they were going to crack down on corruption, and democracy was going to flower everywhere, and everything was going to be great. Turns out-

HB:

Spoilers.

ME:

... Spoiler alert. Shokin ended up being, if not himself an incredibly corrupt politician, he ended up covering for a lot of really corrupt people. So by the time he'd been in power for a few months, everybody, both inside Ukraine and around the world, were calling for his firing. From the United States to the International Monetary Fund to the European Union, everybody was like, "All these reforms, that we really want to see, that are going to make Ukraine a good, smooth-running country, are not going to take effect if this guy is still in power."

HB:

But still, where does Biden come into all of this, I think, is a question a lot of people have. If nobody liked this dude, what did the former vice president do to get him all riled up?

ME:

So a couple of years after he's fired, suddenly, he gives an affidavit in the case of a Ukrainian oligarch who is facing extradition to the United States from Austria, this guy, Dmytro Firtash. He gives an affidavit and says, "Aha! I figured it out. The reason I was fired was because I was investigating a company that Joe Biden's son was serving on the board of." He was not investigating that company, just like he was not investigating a whole lot of companies, but he ... I think he saw an opening. And he saw a way to kind of cleanse his reputation, and to potentially lay the groundwork for a revival for his career, and helped to breed this massive conspiracy that Joe Biden is the reason that he got fired.

HB:

I mean, has he offered any evidence at all to back up this affidavit? A lot of people have been pointing at Joe Biden giving a speech about this to say, "Aha! This is clearly the proof that Shokin was absolutely right."

ME:

Yeah. So Biden gave a speech, about a year after he left office, where he's sitting in a think tank in DC, and just like Joe Biden does, he makes himself the hero of every story that he ever tells. And he's sitting up there on the stage and saying, "I went to Kiev and I said, 'You got to get this guy fired or we're not going to release this aid that we have promised you.'" And then the line he says is, he's like, "Well, son of a bitch got fired." And in the affidavit, which I think is really interesting, Shokin says that he saw this video, and that's what kind of gave him this aha moment.

HB:

Oh, so he backlogged it. He sort of redconned his own life, just like, "So clearly, based on what Joe Biden said after I was fired, that's why I was fired."

ME:

Totally. Shokin hasn't been running around for three years, saying, "Biden got me fired. Biden got me fired." This is really a new theory that he concocted for this affidavit.

HB:

Okay, so that's Shokin. Let's move on to the guy who followed him up in office, Yuriy ... Help me out here. It's a-

ME:

You're so close.

HB:

... I'm so close. Help me out, Russia speaker.

ME:

Yuriy Lutsenko.

HB:

That's the guy. So what's his role in all of this, since he came in after Shokin got the boot?

ME:

So I think that a lot of people think that because Shokin was fired and was replaced by somebody, that the new somebody, who is Lutsenko, is probably the, quote-unquote, good guy. Problem in Ukraine is that he's not. So I think an interesting thing to know about him is that for him to have been appointed prosecutor general, the president at the time had to go to Parliament and get them to repeal a law that required that the prosecutor general had any legal training.

HB:

Oh wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. So that's like saying that I'm going to appoint an attorney general, here in the US, who didn't go to law school. But you know what? Who needs it?

ME:

Correct.

HB:

My gosh. So he got this law revoked so that he could come into office. And what did he do, once he was actually there?

ME:

So Lutsenko has actually been a political player in Ukraine for a really, really long time. He'd held various positions in cabinet for various presidents. And this guy, there's a quote from him himself. He told the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, "I am a political animal." Dude loves to play these kind of power games. And he ended up setting his targets on the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who ended up being recalled by Trump. So Lutsenko basically launched this entire campaign to get rid of her because he thought that she was kind of standing in the way of his own power. She was building up another part of the prosecutor general's office that was investigating corruption. And he wanted all the power for himself. So he helped promote a dossier that seemed to lay out that Yovanovitch was-

HB:

Being mean towards Trump, and had all these conflicts, and told him not to prosecute people. I remember seeing that floating around.

ME:

... Right. Exactly.

HB:

So Yovanovitch gets recalled. But he had tied himself to Petro Poroshenko, who was the president of Ukraine at the time, who, if I remember correctly, was not doing well in the polls ahead of the election that got him booted out. So Lutsenko is tied to someone whose ship is sinking.

ME:

Exactly. And Zelensky, who ended up winning the election, but during his campaign, he had made it really clear that he was going to get rid of Lutsenko. So Lutsenko basically starts this kind of side hustle where he is reaching out to people like Giuliani. He's feeding them these conspiracy theories, presenting them as information, because he's trying to kind of cut out the middle man. He cuts out the US ambassador. He understands the way that Trump functions, which is much more similar to the way that Ukrainian politicians or Russian politicians kind of function, which is, "Let me cut out the bureaucracy here and just go straight to the guys that matter in the small circle around the president of the United States."

HB:

So Giuliani and others inside of the circle are just taking all of this in as fact, basically, and just putting it back out there in sort of a weird cycle-of-information, feedback-loop-of-doom situation.

ME:

Totally. I think the way that Giuliani has been presenting it is like, "These guys had all this crazy information, and they wanted to get it out. And nobody was listening to them. So I took it all, and I brought it to John Solomon at the Hill. And I took it to Fox News. And now, everybody knows what's really going on." But the fact is that what you have here are two disgraced prosecutor generals who are merely looking to revive their own political career.

HB:

So who would you say got played more here? Is it the former prosecutors, who were trying to spin themselves into better jobs, but are now caught up in the middle of an impeachment inquiry, or the people that they were feeding the information to, who are also caught up in an impeachment inquiry, but might not have been passing on even good information in the process?

ME:

Well Hayes, at the moment, it looks like everybody is screwed because they've opened up an investigation into Lutsenko. He's currently hiding out in England, which, I mean, doesn't sound that bad. But he's taking English classes from nine to five. And then on the American side of things, I mean, obviously there's a massive impeachment inquiry, and potentially a criminal inquiry into Rudy Giuliani. So everybody is screwed. But as is my usual answer with these kinds of things, the real people who are screwed at the moment are the Ukrainian people, who both had to contend with unsavory characters in their own government and then unsavory characters around the US president trying to screw with their own political processes.

HB:

Okay. So let's flash forward a year into the future. It's just before the 2020 election. What do you think Shokin and Lutsenko are up to? I mean, are we still even talking about them at this point?

ME:

Well, Lutsenko has been giving a lot of interviews lately and kind of changing his story. He's changing dates as to when he met Giuliani. He's saying, "Oh no, I knew all along that this is what they wanted to hear. And that's why I told them that." I mean, the problem is I think we've gotten to a point where they started something of ginormous proportions, and they don't really have control over any of it anymore.

HB:

Good times.

HB:

All right. Normally on the show, we have a segment that's called The Kicker, where we ask someone to bring in a quote, or a tweet, or something that sums up where we are right now. For this Halloween addition, though, I wanted to ask you, what is your personal nightmare scenario when it comes to this whole impeachment saga?

ME:

Wow. So as a former Russia correspondent, as a former world editor, I think my brain automatically goes to the other side of the world, where Ukraine has been fighting a war against Russian-backed separatists for five years now. 13,000 people have died. Thousands more have been displaced from their homes, injured. So when I see something like the impeachment inquiry that was sparked with the president holding up military aid to try to help in a war that has really affected so many people, my brain automatically goes to the people living through it on the ground. So my nightmare scenario would honestly be just somehow the president's actions making things in a very difficult war, even worse.

HB:

I love that answer. It's not what I was expecting, but I'm really here for it. Miriam, thank you so much for taking the time today and going through all this with us.

ME:

Thank you, Hayes.

Hayes Brown:

Now, usually this would be the time for Testify, where we talk about who's testifying next before Congress. But we thought it was time to hear from you, the listeners. So just like with our guest, Miriam, we're asking you to share your impeachment nightmare scenarios. What are you worried about? What's your worst-case scenario? So record a voice memo on your phone and send it in an email to impeachment@buzzfeed.com, or just find me on Twitter, @HayesBrown. My DMs are always open. Impeachment@buzzfeed.com or @HayesBrown on Twitter. Let us know what scares you.

Okay, that's it for our Halloween episode. Oh wait, one more thing. How do you impeach a werewolf president? Through the Howls of Representatives. Okay, okay. That's the last dumb pun you'll have from me for at least the next 24 hours. Hopefully, we'll have more of whatever spookiness awaits us all tomorrow. Be sure to listen on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts β€” and maybe leave a rating and review? Eh? Also, tell your friends about the show, as we all figure this out together.

ADVERTISEMENT