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Who is John Bolton? Why the conservative from Baltimore is making waves in the Trump impeachment trial

In this May 22, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-In in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as national security adviser John Bolton, right, watches.
In this May 22, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-In in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as national security adviser John Bolton, right, watches. (Evan Vucci/AP)

A Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump that was moving along predictably — with Republican senators continuing to support their party’s president — received a jolt from John Bolton, a sharp-tongued conservative and Baltimore native who has never seemed to mind rattling conventional wisdom.

Here’s a primer on who Bolton is, why he’s in the news, and how he’s tied to the Baltimore area.

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Why is Bolton in the news?

In explosive comments made in a book manuscript, the former national security adviser stoked debate over whether the impeachment trial should include witnesses. Bolton wrote, according to a New York Times report, that President Donald Trump tied a freeze of military aid to Ukraine to his request to see that nation announce political investigations into political rivals, including former vice president Joe Biden.

Democrats immediately seized upon the leaked Bolton statements as bolstering the need to summon him — and other witnesses — to the trial.

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“This is stunning,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer told reporters. “It boils down to one thing: We have a witness with firsthand evidence of the president’s actions for which he is on trial. He is ready and willing to testify. How can Senate Republicans not vote to call that witness and request his documents?"

Democrats said Bolton’s comments in the manuscript went to the heart of the impeachment allegations.

The first impeachment article alleges Trump abused his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine — and the prospect of a state visit to Washington by Ukraine’s president — to pressure its government to announce an investigation into Biden, a presidential candidate. Biden’s son, Hunter, was on the board of a gas company in Ukraine.

The second article alleges the president defied the impeachment inquiry by directing officials not to cooperate with congressional subpoenas.

Trump counsel Alan Dershowitz argued during the trial Monday night that Bolton’s disclosures about Trump — even if true — would not rise to an impeachable offense by the president.

What is Bolton’s background?

Bolton has long made lawmakers of both parties uncomfortable. He has been criticized as hawkish and unpredictable by Democrats, and viewed warily by many in his own party. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is known for an abrupt rhetoric that has often flared rather than eased tensions.

He once said the 39-story United Nations’ Secretariat Building in New York could lose 10 floors and it “wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

Like Trump, Bolton has been critical of the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The president withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018.

But he differed sharply from the president on other foreign policy questions. Trump said frequently during the 2016 campaign that he opposed the Iraq war; Bolton was an architect of the 2003 U.S. invasion.

As he entered office, Trump sought another “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia; Bolton took a more confrontational approach with Moscow.

How is he tied to Baltimore?

The son of a Baltimore firefighter, Bolton grew up in a rowhouse in a working-class southwest neighborhood behind Mount Saint Joseph High School.

Even when he was a student at the McDonogh School, he had a flair for foreign policy and a propensity for being less than diplomatic. A lifelong conservative, Bolton had a nickname for a beloved liberal history teacher at the Owings Mills school he attended as U.S. involvement in Vietnam was escalating: “Mao.”

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From McDonogh, he went to Yale College and Yale Law School, where he was a classmate of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham.

Bolton worked in the Nixon White House and served as general counsel for the U.S. Agency for International Development before joining the State Department.

President George W. Bush named Bolton under secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, a post he held from 2001 until 2005. Bush then nominated him to be ambassador to the United Nations.

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