There have been many sabre rattlers in Donald Trump’s administration, but the fiercest was the walrus-moustached John Bolton.
The ultra-hawkish ex-UN ambassador called publicly for the removal of regimes in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and Cuba — once writing an opinion piece headlined: ‘To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.’
Many were convinced that the U.S. would be dragged into new conflicts when Bolton, who like Trump avoided the draft for the Vietnam War, was appointed his National Security Advisor in April 2018.
Instead, Bolton — a former Bush administration ‘neocon’ — proved too warlike even for the tough-talking Trump, and came crashing out of the administration just 17 months later following clashes with the President over North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump has been exposed by former US National Security Advisor John Bolton (right) in a new, hard-hitting book
For all his warlike posturing on Twitter, the President had pledged to bring U.S. forces home rather than send more abroad, and it probably didn’t help that Trump teased him about his moustache and often mistakenly called him ‘Mike’.
Now, Bolton finally has his revenge and a war of sorts, having dropped a bombshell book on the White House that makes eviscerating claims about the extent to which Trump kowtows to foreign leaders — including dictators — for his own self-interest.
The most stunning allegation in The Room Where It Happened — copies of which have been seen by parts of the U.S. media — is that Trump pleaded with Chinese president Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 presidential election, even encouraging his regime’s human rights abuses over Uighur muslims.
However, there are plenty more jaw-dropping claims in its near-600 pages. Bolton witheringly portrays Trump as astonishingly clueless and uninformed, easily influenced by authoritarian leaders and always looking for what will benefit him and his family, rather than the country.
Bolton claims world leaders were eager to meet Trump alone so they could flatter and manipulate him, adding that Vladimir Putin ‘thinks he can play him like a fiddle’. It has all, predictably, sparked a furious response from the president, who on Thursday dismissed the book as ‘lies and fake stories’ in a stream of abuse.
He tweeted of Bolton: ‘A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. Never had a clue, was ostracised & happily dumped. What a dope!’.
The U.S. Justice Department is seeking a legal restraining order on the $2million book, alleging it has disclosed classified information and breached nondisclosure agreements.
Kowtowing to China
Few Trump observers will be surprised to hear that a president so keen to trumpet the size of his rally crowds and opinion poll leads should use foreign policy as another avenue for self-promotion.
Bolton says Trump repeatedly put his own political interests and getting a trade deal with China (to boost his electoral prospects by winning the vote of farming states) over other issues such as human rights and U.S. sanctions.
He allegedly called President Xi ‘the greatest Chinese leader in 300 years’ and — inaccurately — boasted that Americans wanted to change the Constitution so Trump could serve more than two terms.
During a meeting at last year’s G20 Summit in Japan, says Bolton, Trump ‘stunningly’ turned the conversation to the 2020 election and his chances of winning a second term.
Bolton says Trump repeatedly put his own political interests and getting a trade deal with China over other issues such as human rights and U.S. sanctions
‘He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome,’ writes Bolton. The president then urged China to ‘buy as many American farm products as [it] could’, he adds.
With only interpreters with them, Trump allegedly even encouraged Beijing’s building of concentration camps for Uighur Muslims in northwestern China. At the time, the U.S. was considering imposing sanctions over the repression, which has seen between one and two million people imprisoned without trial.
Bolton claims that according to their interpreter, ‘Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do’. Despite the intense U.S. criticism of Britain’s decision to involve Chinese telecoms giant Huawei in its 5G network, Bolton says Xi badgered Trump into agreeing to lift the ban on the controversial company from the U.S. in return for movement on trade talks.
West wing bun fights
Bolton says that the weekly meetings to discuss issues of national importance, chaired by Trump, resembled student food fights rather than careful, informed decision-making.
The relevant agencies had no input, while Trump was less interested in understanding how federal government worked than in how each decision would be greeted by the media.
‘After these sessions, had I believed in yoga, I probably could have used some,’ writes Bolton. Trump was always preoccupied by how everything would affect his re-election prospects, says Bolton who warns that — if he wins in November’s contest — the president would become ‘far less constrained’ in a second term.
According to Bolton, Trump routinely put his family’s interests before those of the country. When in 2018 Trump issued a vehement defence of Saudi Arabia over the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he was actually trying to distract attention from a developing scandal over daughter Ivanka’s use of a personal email account for government business, says Bolton.
When Trump issued a defence of Saudi Arabia over the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured), Bolton says he was trying to deflect attention from his daughter
Even his most loyal advisors were openly scornful of Trump’s competence. Bolton describes a meeting to discuss nuclear disarmaments with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo passed him a note about Trump.
It read: ‘He is so full of s***.’ His ex-chief of staff, John Kelly, was one of various top officials who repeatedly considered resigning. ‘What if we have a real crisis like 9/11 with the way he makes decisions?,’ he reportedly asked colleagues.
As for journalists who didn’t divulge the sources of stories denigrating his leadership, Trump reportedly told Bolton: ‘These people should be executed. They are scumbags.’
Whatever Trump is full of, it isn’t an in-depth knowledge of world affairs, says Bolton. The president was reportedly obsessed with conspiracy theories but woefully ignorant of real facts.
During a June 2018 meeting with then PM Theresa May, he is said to have expressed surprise that Britain had atomic weapons: ‘Oh, are you a nuclear power?’ he asked, a question ‘not intended as a joke’, writes Bolton.
Trump allegedly once asked if Finland was part of Russia and often mixed up past and present presidents of Afghanistan. In an August 2018 White House meeting, he reportedly claimed that Venezuela was ‘really part of the United States’ and asked for military options to invade it, describing such an illegal act as ‘cool’.
Bolton writes: ‘He second-guessed people’s motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government.’
Trump, he adds, was always looking to ‘personal instinct’ and opportunities for ‘reality TV showmanship’.
Favours to dictators
President Xi Jinping wasn’t the only ‘hard-man’ leader whom Trump tried to win over by promising to overlook their misdeeds, says Bolton.
He accused the president of regularly doing ‘personal favours for dictators he liked’. In 2018, Trump announced that a Turkish bank, Halkbank, under investigation in New York for evading U.S. sanctions on Iran was ‘totally innocent’.
Why? Because, says Bolton, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had sent Trump a memo prepared by the bank’s lawyers claiming that was the case. Halkbank was allegedly used by Erdogan and his family for personal purposes, and the Turkish leader often pestered Trump about it, says Bolton.
‘Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the southern district [of New York] prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when replaced by his people’ he writes.
Even though that was ‘all nonsense’ as the prosecutors were civil servants rather than political appointees, Trump ‘was trying to show he had as much arbitrary authority as Erdogan’, says Bolton.
Bolton accuses Trump of regularly doing ‘personal favours for dictators he liked’, including Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Trump also went out of his way to suck up to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, arguably the world’s most repressive leader, when he thought he could bask in the glory of signing a nuclear disarmament deal that had proved beyond former presidents, says Bolton.
Trump saw their historic summit in Singapore as an ‘exercise in publicity’ rather than a serious attempt to persuade the rogue state to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme, says Bolton. After deriding Kim as ‘Little Rocket Man’, Trump became anxious to persuade him he had meant it positively.
He fretted obsessively that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should do this by handing the homicidal dictator a CD of Elton John’s song Rocket Man, claims Bolton. Old allies, however, could be brutally dismissed.
Bolton recalls a trade meeting in which Trump was infuriated when advisors mentioned the importance of the alliance with Japan. The president began railing about their 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, says Bolton.
A patsy for Putin and Moscow
For all his efforts to find dodgy friends abroad, all too often an erratic and childlike Trump was out-manoeuvred and manipulated by far more canny foreign leaders, says Bolton.
He cites President Vladimir Putin — whose chummy personal relationship with Trump has long raised eyebrows. According to Bolton , Trump privately complained about sanctions and other punitive measures against Russia with ‘extended grumbling and complaining’ even though he publicly supported them.
After the U.S. announced a first round of sanctions on Russia for poisoning ex-Kremlin spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018, Bolton claims Trump said they were too harsh on Putin and wanted to rescind them.
‘Trump told Pompeo to call Lavrov [Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov] and say “some bureaucrat” had published the sanctions — a call that may or may not have ever taken place,’ says Bolton.
Bolton says Putin put on a ‘brilliant display of Soviet-style propaganda’ when during a phone call with the White House in May 2019, he ‘largely persuaded Trump’ not to impose additional sanctions on Venezuela’s repressive regime.
To strengthen Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro — a Kremlin stooge — in Trump’s eyes, Putin cleverly compared his democratic opponent Juan Guaido to Hillary Clinton, says Bolton. Trump also happily played into Moscow’s hands by bullying Ukraine and clinging to a conspiracy theory that it — and not Russia — had interfered in U.S. politics in a computer-hacking operation designed to hurt him.
Bolton cites personal conversations he had with Trump confirming there was a ‘quid pro quo’ — which the president has always denied — that he would only give Ukraine desperately needed aid if it helped him get damaging material on Democrat opponents Joe Biden, whose son worked for a Ukrainian bank accused of corruption, and Hillary Clinton.
Bolton says he found this ‘deeply disturbing’. Trump has often threatened whistleblowers, but with little success, and he is unlikely to be able to stop the book being published or becoming a bestseller.
As to whether this will hit him where it hurts — his re-election chances — the president is famously the Teflon Don to whom nothing sticks. Still, his supporters are patriots who may not want to hear about The Donald’s allegedly unctuous and discreditable behaviour towards America’s foes.
Additional reporting: DANIEL BATES