Administration

The Memo: Bolton exposé makes Trump figure of mockery

John Bolton’s most potent weapon against President Trump is simple but brutal — mockery.

The New York Times published details from the former national security advisor’s book Wednesday afternoon, and other outlets soon followed. The revelations caused an immediate firestorm.

By Bolton’s account, Trump on one occasion asked if Finland is part of Russia. He was not aware that the United Kingdom possesses nuclear weapons. He was eager to see if an autographed copy of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” could be delivered to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

And he was so reckless that he needed to be looked after by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, whom Bolton reportedly terms “the axis of adults.”

Bolton’s portrayal of the president as a fool may be a sharper dart, politically speaking, than serious allegations suggesting Trump committed other potentially impeachable acts, beyond his dealings with Ukraine.

In the one detail that is likely to receive enormous attention, Bolton recounts a meeting during which Tillerson’s successor as secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, purportedly passed Bolton a note saying of Trump: “He is so full of shit.”

That remark will be added to the pantheon of profanities that have been used by, or attributed to, erstwhile members of Trump’s inner circle.

Tillerson is said to have called Trump a “f—-ing moron.” Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear,” characterizes lawyer John Dowd as believing Trump to be “a f—-ing liar” and former Chief of Staff John Kelly to have considered him an “idiot.” (Dowd and Kelly denied those accounts.)

There has been a vigorous effort from the administration and outside Trump allies to suppress or discredit Bolton’s book — a sign, perhaps, that they are aware of the danger it poses.

The pre-publication vetting of the book was deeply contentious, with the National Security Council demanding changes, ostensibly to protect national security. 

A lawyer for Bolton, Chuck Cooper, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last week in which he argued this amounted to “a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton.”

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a civil complaint against Bolton over the book, which is titled “The Room Where it Happened.” In the process, the DOJ gave the tome enormous publicity. Although it does not come out until June 23, it was the number one bestseller on Amazon on Wednesday afternoon.

Bolton is, to be sure, not a hero for the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

A hawkish foreign policy expert who first came to national prominence during the administration of former President George W. Bush, he was a leading proponent of the Iraq War.

When Bush nominated him to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005, he failed to secure confirmation from the Senate, and was instead put in place via a recess appointment.

During his time in the Trump administration, which began in April 2018, Bolton plainly favored a more muscular approach than the president on a number of issues, including North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan. 

Those differences, among others, led to a parting of the ways in September under disputed circumstances. Bolton says he resigned, and Trump says he was fired.

Trump allies are now trying to downplay Bolton’s importance by questioning his motives. It’s a rare instance where MAGA-land and liberals are in agreement. 

Many Democrats and other Trump critics are scathing of Bolton, who they believe wheedled out of testifying during impeachment proceedings earlier this year, only to cash in with a book that is said to have earned him a $2 million advance.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s strongest congressional allies, on Wednesday derided Bolton for having “an ax to grind,” according to a tweet from a CNN reporter. 

Jason Miller, a veteran of the 2016 Trump campaign who has recently joined up again as a senior advisor to the 2020 effort, has pushed the Twitter hashtag #BookDealBolton and said that Bolton is “more concerned with selling books than U.S. national security.”

There is some distaste expressed by other Washington Republicans as well.

One veteran of a past Republican administration told The Hill late last week, as details of Bolton’s book began to emerge, that the former national security adviser was engaged in “score-settling” and “salacious inside gossip.”

Support, of a kind, for those views came from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who spearheaded the impeachment proceedings. 

Schiff contrasted Bolton’s resistance to testifying with the “courage” of his staff members who had done so.

“Bolton may be an author, but he’s no patriot,” Schiff complained.

Be that as it may, some of Bolton’s allegations go right to the heart of questions that were raised during Trump’s impeachment. 

Whereas impeachment focused on Ukraine, and Trump’s apparent willingness to make congressionally mandated aid contingent upon the eastern European nation launching an investigation into Joe Biden, Bolton argues a broadly similar stroke was attempted with China.

Bolton describes a June 2019 Group of 20 summit at which Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election. 

“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,” Bolton writes, according to The Washington Post.

Plenty of serious coverage will be devoted to that issue. 

But, for all the gravity in such charges, it may be Bolton’s portrayal of Trump as out-of-his-depth and incompetent that lodges most firmly in the public mind.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Tags Adam Schiff Bolton book China Donald Trump James Mattis Jim Jordan Joe Biden John Bolton John Kelly Kim Jong Un Mike Pompeo North Korea presidential election Rex Tillerson

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Regular the hill posts

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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