“Wacko John Bolton’s “exceedingly tedious”(New York Times) book is made up of lies & fake stories. Said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him. A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. Never had a clue, was ostracized & happily dumped. What a dope!” Trump tweeted on June 18, 2020. He didn’t seem very pleased with John Bolton, his former National Security Adviser, who he had every reason to be displeased and angry on account of Bolton’s forthcoming memoir — The Room Where It Happened.
Bolton, Donald Trump’s longest-serving National Security Advisor until fired in September 2019, paints a very unflattering picture of the President in his memoir describing him as “erratic,” “impulsive” and “stunningly uninformed”. “Throughout my West Wing tenure, Trump wanted to do what he wanted to do, based on what he knew and what he saw as his own best personal interests,” says Bolton in the book, and goes on to further say at another place, “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations.”
What makes Bolton’s account of particular interest is that he accompanied Trump to the two summits with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, was with him when the President met Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and during several key meetings with China’s Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and many other world leaders on the sidelines of such major events as the G-20.
Bolton has recounted a conversation between Trump and China’s President, Xi Jinping, at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan in June 2019: “He [Trump] then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.”
Trouble keeping personal and political apart
Bolton has also said that Trump “came increasingly to view China as trying to influence the 2018 congressional elections against Republicans, and more important (to him), was working for his defeat in 2020.” This makes one wonder whether Trump’s continuing tirade against China is, at least in part, influenced by such impressions because from what we know of him, unassisted by any memoir or manual, he has trouble keeping the personal and the political apart and no trouble dealing a low blow, even if it appears brazenly vindictive or downright childish, be it people or nations.
Watch: Leaked Excerpts From Bolton’s Book Detail Trump’s Pattern Of Corruption And Obstruction
Trump’s dislike for the book, the author and particularly his own portrayal by Bolton is hardly surprising; neither is the fact that the picture of a President more concerned about himself than the country and putting his own interests and gains ahead of the nation’s looks realistic and surprises few. When Bolton says “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations”, it holds no shock, which is a bit shocking. Keeping an eye on the next elections or aspiring to be reelected is not by itself a bad thing, for politicians work to be in positions of power and retain influence, but trying to secure a reelection by showcasing one’s work and using the office of the President to pressure, lure or prod the heads of foreign governments into influencing domestic elections directly or indirectly are two very different things that stand on two very different ethical footings.
Speaking of three meetings between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Bolton told ABC News, “There was considerable emphasis on the photo opportunity and the press reaction to it and little or no focus on what such meetings did for the bargaining position of the United States.”
“North Korea had what it wanted from the United States and Trump had what he wanted personally. This showed the asymmetry of Trump’s view of foreign affairs. He couldn’t tell the difference between his personal interests and the country’s interests,” says Bolton.
In Bolton’s view the impeachment proceedings against Trump were focused on the Ukraine affair whereas Trump has engaged in self-serving manipulations “in other matters — criminal and civil, international and domestic — that should not properly be subject to manipulation by a President for personal reasons (political, economic, or any other).”
True, the impeachment efforts did focus a little too narrowly on the Ukraine issue, and despite such intense focus a number of significant questions remain unanswered even after the impeachment sailed through the House. Bolton himself could come forward and voluntarily testify before the House, but not only did he refuse to testify voluntarily, but also threatened to have the subpoena tested in a court if one was issued to force his presence before the House. He was never subpoenaed.
However, he was prepared to testify before the Senate under subpoena, having changed his stand by them. He said in a statement: “I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.” This complicated things just a little for the Republicans in the Senate at least on the public side because Bolton would have been the witness of the highest profile to testify before the Senate, had he been summoned.
Also, on the Ukraine question, if Bolton were to say before the Senate what he wrote in his memoir, it could be quite damaging to Trump’s interests because Bolton confirms in the book that the delay in releasing $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine was tied to Ukraine’s providing damaging material on Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. “He said he wasn’t in favour of sending them anything until all Russia-investigation material related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over,” Bolton writes.
Whether or not it could have led the Republican-controlled Senate to vote for Trump’s impeachment is hard to guess, but even if it had failed to make a difference to the outcome of the Senate proceedings, it would likely have impacted Trump’s reelection chances. But Bolton was never summoned to testify.
Damaging for Trump 2020
As far as elections are concerned, Bolton’s book can still do — at least to a limited extent — what his testimony before the Congress could, which is why Trump’s had attempted to block the publication of the book on the grounds that the book contains classified material, which Bolton could not disclose because it jeopardized national security.
Watch: Totally inappropriate for Bolton to write a book
On June 17, 2020, the Justice Department sought an injunction from a federal judge directing the publisher of the book “to take any and all available steps to retrieve and destroy any copies of the book that may be in the possession of any third party.” The book was set to release on June 23, 2020, and just a week prior the government was clutching at straws arguing that the injunction would at least prevent “any further spread of the book, such as limiting its audiobook release.” The court found no force in the argument and said, “In taking it upon himself to publish his book without securing final approval from national intelligence authorities, Bolton may indeed have caused the country irreparable harm. But in the Internet age, even a handful of copies in circulation could irrevocably destroy confidentiality.”
The court tested the government’s position on the parameters laid down by the US Supreme Court in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7 (2008), and found that the requirements set out in the ruling were not adequately met. “Defendant Bolton has gambled with the national security of the United States. He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability. But these facts do not control the motion before the Court. The government has failed to establish that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm. Its motion is accordingly DENIED,” the court ruled.
The book was published on June 23, 2020, and was already a bestseller at Amazon before it hit the bookstores. There have been several other books written about Trump and his presidency by people who have had the opportunity to observe him closely, but Bolton is the highest-ranking official to have written about Trump and his wayward ways. Combined with other factors, it could make the weather rough for Trump’s reelection.