President Donald Trump appealed to China’s President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election by increasing the Chinese government’s agricultural purchases from American farmers, former National Security Adviser John Bolton writes in his bombshell forthcoming memoir.
During a one-on-one meeting at the G20 Summit in 2019, Trump “stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Bolton writes, according to an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal.
It was one of several disturbing instances Bolton outlines of Trump appealing to foreign dictators for his own gains—a pattern of behavior that he says went far beyond the Ukraine aid saga.
Trump was willing to kill off criminal probes against Turkish and Chinese companies to “in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” Bolton writes, alleging that Trump was willing to intervene in probes against Turkey’s Halkbank and China’s ZTE to curry favor with either country’s leaders.
“The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Bolton writes.
Several media outlets got their hands on an advanced copy of Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, on Wednesday, ahead of its release next week—and despite the Department of Justice’s attempts to halt its publication.
In it, Bolton paints a picture of his former boss as an idiot who thought Finland was part of Russia, a megalomaniac who governs based on gut instinct, and the butt of jokes from even his most trusted aides. He joked about executing American journalists, delivered an autographed copy of Elton John’s Rocket Man to Kim Jong Un and thought invading Venezuela would be “cool,” Bolton writes. (Guy Snodgrass, a former speechwriter for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, later took to Twitter to say he “can confirm” that Trump has made such remarks about journalists. “This sentiment expressed again during Trump's meeting with Mattis in the Pentagon,” he said.)
‘He is so full of shit’
Bolton has no qualms about throwing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo under the bus in the 592-page book.
He writes that, during Trump’s 2018 meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Pompeo slipped Bolton a note that referred to Trump. It said, “He is so full of shit.”
Bolton says that he and Pompeo also shared their disdain for the president after Trump had a phone call with South Korea’s president in the lead up to the 2018 summit with Kim. Pompeo told Bolton he was “having a cardiac arrest” after listening in on the call. Bolton sympathized with Pompeo, describing it as a “near death experience.”
In another instance, Bolton writes that Trump once told him that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had used a sexist obscenity to describe Nikki Haley, then the ambassador to the United Nations.
Bolton doubted it was true but found it yet another example of Trump trying to pit staff against each other. In fact, Haley was so highly regarded inside the White House that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump floated the idea of her replacing Vice President Mike Pence in the 2020 ticket. Bolton said it would be a mistake, and Trump seemed to agree.
Other staff routinely flirted with quitting in disgust. “What if we have a real crisis like 9/11 with the way he makes decisions?” former Chief of Staff John Kelly said as he contemplated resigning one day.
“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,” Bolton writes, adding that Trump was singularly obsessed with winning a second term.
Support for internment camps and foreign interference
Some of the most damning revelations in the book, however, are Bolton’s accusations of Trump’s willingness to interfere in criminal investigations and use foreign powers to achieve his domestic aims. In turn, foreign leaders appeared happy to appease the president as a means of manipulation.
During the same G20 meeting that he asked for Xi’s help to win the election, Trump expressed support for the Chinese government’s use of internment camps for 1 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, the book says. They have repeatedly been exposed as extraordinarily inhumane to China’s ethnic minority.
“According to our interpreter,” Bolton writes, “Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.”
When Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for another six years, Trump replied that people thought the two-term constitutional limit on presidents should be removed. Xi replied that the U.S. had too many elections, and he didn’t want Trump to lose. Trump nodded approvingly, Bolton wrote.
In another example of foreign manipulation during a 2019 phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. It was, Bolton writes, part of a “brilliant display of Soviet style propaganda” aimed at boosting support for Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. It “largely persuaded Trump,” he adds.
Bolton says he was so alarmed by Trump’s willingness to do favors for dictators like Turkish strongman Recip Tayyip Erdogan and Xi that he discussed them with Attorney General William Barr.
For example, Trump told Erdogan that Halkbank’s legal issues—related to violating the administration’s sanctions on Iran—would disappear once the “Obama people” in the Southern District of New York were “replaced by his people,” Bolton writes.
Bolton claims that Barr was also worried about Trump’s behavior—but it’s not clear what resulted from their conversation.
‘Deeply disturbing’ Ukraine allegations
Democrats and Republicans have been united in their criticism of Bolton, who refused to testify before the House during impeachment proceedings but instead took a $2 million book contract.
House impeachment manager Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said on Wednesday that Bolton “ran and hid” when it truly mattered.
“It is curious to me that he now has something to say when he could have stepped forward as a patriot when the stakes were high and the president was on trial,” he said. “He ran and hid in the other direction.”
In his book, Bolton confirms that Trump did explicitly link security aid for Ukraine to investigations involving Biden and Hillary Clinton. Trump said on August 20 that “he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until all the Russia-investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over,” Bolton writes, adding that Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper tried eight to 10 times to get Trump to release the aid.
He calls Trump’s decision to hold aid “deeply disturbing” but stops short of supporting impeachment. Instead, he says Democrats badly bungled the impeachment proceedings.
“I thought the whole affair was bad policy, questionable legally and unacceptable as presidential behavior,” he writes.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) tweeted on Wednesday that Bolton’s staff “showed real courage” by testifying during impeachment hearings.
“When Bolton was asked, he refused, and said he’d sue if subpoenaed,” Schiff said in a statement. “Instead, he saved it for a book. Bolton may be an author, but he’s no patriot.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was one of the few Democratic lawmakers to respond to the substance of Bolton’s allegations on Wednesday. In a letter to Alan Garten, chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, Menenedez said that Bolton’s description of Trump’s talks with Xi “raises new questions about other ways in which President Trump benefits personally, and financially, from the Chinese government, including through ongoing business relationships.”
Specifically, Menendez asked Garten to provide more details about the Trump Organization’s leasing of office space in Trump Tower to a bank controlled by the Chinese government.
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), said in a statement Wednesday that, if accurate, Bolton’s account represents “another extraordinary abuse of American foreign policy and national security” by Trump. He said he would be consulting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other chairs about “next steps.” During their impeachment inquiry, Democrats called Bolton to testify but never issued a subpoena.
Mopping up for Jared and Ivanka
Bolton writes of his disdain for Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s constant efforts to insert themselves in foreign policy and domestic affairs.
When Bolton learned that Kushner was going to be calling the finance minister of Turkey, he briefed Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin “on this new ‘son-in-law channel’ and they both exploded.” To Pompeo, it was yet another example of Kushner’s meddling in international negotiations, as he did with the “never quite ready Middle East peace plan.”
In late 2018, Trump came under fire for writing a bizarre defense of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But, according to Bolton, the main goal of the exclamation point-laden statement was to draw attention away from Ivanka using her personal email for government business.
“This will divert from Ivanka,” Trump said, according to the book. “If I read the statement in person, that will take over the Ivanka thing.”
Damning books on Trump are hardly rare, but Bolton’s book is the first to be written by such a high-ranking administration official, and a lifelong conservative, who was present for some of the most consequential foreign policy decisions.
Bolton, a vocal Russia and North Korea hawk, became Trump’s third national security adviser in 2018 and had aims of withdrawing the U.S. from several international agreements, like the Iran nuclear deal.
He resigned late September after clashing with Trump over several foreign policy directives. Naturally, Trump claimed he fired him.