Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that he had fired his national security adviser John Bolton, in what is the latest indication of unrest and tension inside the president’s national security team.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” the president tweeted. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”
Bolton was scheduled to attend a press briefing at 1:30 p.m. with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin. And moments after Trump’s announcement, Bolton himself seemed to directly contradict the president’s account of the departure, writing: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”
In a text to The Daily Beast, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham disputed the now-former national security adviser’s description of how he left the administration.
“Last night, Potus said he wanted Bolton’s resignation on his desk tomorrow AM. Bolton delivered it. Simply put, many of Bolton’s policy priorities did not align w POTUS,” Grisham said.
Bolton responded in a text to The Daily Beast: “[White House] press secretary statement is flatly incorrect.”
Bolton had served as Trump’s third national-security adviser since April 9, 2018. Charlie Kupperman will serve as acting national security adviser.
By the time of his ouster, Bolton had few remaining allies inside the administration. And at the subsequent briefing, both Pompeo and Mnuchin did little to hold back their evident satisfaction that Bolton had been sidelined.
“There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed,” said Pompeo. “That’s to be sure, but that’s true with a lot of people with whom I interact.”
“The president’s view of the Iraq War and Bolton’s were very different,” said Mnuchin. “The president has made that clear.”
In Trumpworld writ large, there was loud gloating and celebration on Tuesday afternoon among those who had long opposed Bolton as antithetical to Trump’s skepticism of certain foreign interventions and his nationalist platform.
“With the exception of the neocons who were hoping Bolton would lead us into World War III, the rest of the country is breathing easier today with him out of the White House,” said Andrew Surabian, a GOP strategist and former Trump White House official. “President Trump’s anti-intervention and anti-regime change instincts on foreign policy are a big reason why he was elected in 2016 and he deserves a National Security Adviser who reflects those instincts.”
Bolton’s departure comes as the United States is facing numerous high-level foreign policy negotiations, namely the ongoing challenges in Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea. Bolton reportedly clashed with the president over many major foreign-policy decisions, so much so that Trump reportedly called his former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to tell him how much he missed him.
Mnuchin called a question of whether Trump’s national security team was “a mess” to be among “the most ridiculous” he had ever heard. But Bolton’s exit sent shockwaves on Capitol Hill, where opinion of his performance is sharply divided. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) called it an “extraordinary loss,” calling Bolton “a brilliant man with decades of experience.”
“His point of view was not always the same as everybody else in the room,” Romney added. “That's why you wanted him there. The fact that he was a contrarian from time to time is an asset, not a liability.”
But not everyone was saddened by the news. An aide to a senator who favors diplomacy with Iran said of Bolton: “He’s been ‘failing upwards’ for a long time, and finally someone had the gumption to show him the door. Ding dong the witch is dead.”
Bolton is famous—and, in many circles, infamous—for his hawkish foreign policy positions. As a member of the George W. Bush administration, he advocated for the Iraq invasion. Trump meanwhile, made his self-proclaimed opposition to that war a key component of his 2016 presidential campaign.
Bolton also has long held an ultra-hawkish view of the Iranian government, and called for regime change as recently as 2017. After touting the prospect of regime change in a speech to a group of Iranian dissidents in 2017, he concluded by crying, “And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”
The president, meanwhile, has embraced considerably less hawkish rhetoric toward the Islamic Republic. He’s also expressed openness to meeting with its president, Hassan Rouhani, including for a potential pull-aside at the upcoming UN General Assembly.
Two U.S. officials said Bolton strongly opposed such a conversation. And, as The Daily Beast first reported, Fox News host Tucker Carlson—an enthusiastic opponent of military engagement with Iran—has urged Trump to stiff-arm his hawkish advisors.