A new book written by one of Donald Trump’s former senior advisers contains a series of damning revelations about the US President.
For 17 months, John Bolton served as Mr Trump’s national security adviser – one of the most important jobs in the White House.
He left that role in contentious circumstances last September. The President said he had fired Mr Bolton, citing “strong” disagreements with much of his advice. Mr Bolton, on the other hand, claimed he had offered to resign.
In an ominous footnote, the outgoing adviser texted Washington Post reporter Robert Costa and promised: “I will have my say in due course.”
Now, having stayed stubbornly silent during the impeachment saga late last year, Mr Bolton is finally having his say.
Mr Bolton’s book, titled The Room Where It Happened, is his account of what went down during his time in the White House.
It is due to be released next week, but multiple US media publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, have already obtained copies and started to report on the juiciest parts.
We’ll get to those details in a moment. First, you should be aware of the President’s response.
The Trump administration filed a civil lawsuit against Mr Bolton on Tuesday, accusing him of violating nondisclosure agreements and putting the United States’ national security at risk by putting classified information in the book.
The US Justice Department subsequently sought an emergency injunction from a judge to block the book’s publication.
Mr Bolton’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, today labelled the attempt to stop the book “a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility”.
“Hundreds of thousands of copies of The Room Where It Happened have already been distributed around the country and the world. The injunction as requested by the government would accomplish nothing,” the publisher said.
Mr Trump himself responded to the book during an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
“He is a liar,” the President said, adding that “everyone in the White House” hated the former national security adviser.
In a late-night tweet, Mr Trump called Mr Bolton a “wacko”, “dope” and “disgruntled boring fool”. He said the book was “made up of lies and fake stories”.
So, there’s the President’s reaction. Now let’s run through the explosive allegations that got him so riled up.
1. TRUMP WANTED CHINA’S HELP IN THE ELECTION
According to The Washington Post, Mr Bolton alleges Mr Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win re-election.
During a meeting at the G20 Summit in Japan last year, Mr Trump told Mr Xi that China could aid his chances of beating the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 if it bought more agricultural products from American farmers.
“He 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,” Mr Bolton writes.
“He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat, in the electoral outcome.”
He says he “would print Trump’s exact words”, but the US government’s prepublication review process – which checks for classified information – had “decided otherwise”.
If Mr Trump did ask Mr Xi for help in the election, it would be a scandal in the same ballpark as the one that sparked his impeachment last year.
In that case, Mr Trump held up congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine and used it as leverage to pressure the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, into announcing an investigation of his political opponent, Joe Biden.
Needless to say, US presidents are not supposed to solicit foreign interference in elections.
“I am hard pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” Mr Bolton writes, according to The Post.
2. TRUMP WAS EASILY ‘MANIPULATED’ BY DICTATORS
Mr Bolton describes a couple of times he says authoritarian leaders successfully manipulated Mr Trump into doing what they wanted.
The first example comes from May of 2018. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told Mr Trump a Turkish company under investigation for violating sanctions against Iran was actually innocent.
The authority investigating it was the Southern District of New York, which also happens to have investigated the President and his associates. That worked to Mr Erdogan’s advantage.
“Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people,” Mr Bolton writes, according to The Post.
The other example involves Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During a phone call with Mr Trump in May of last year, Mr Putin compared the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to the President’s opponent in 2016, Hillary Clinton.
Mr Putin was trying to “shore up support” for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has been widely labelled a dictator.
Mr Bolton claims Mr Putin’s argument “largely persuaded Trump”, though it should be noted that the US Justice Department indicted Mr Maduro on “narco-terrorism” charges earlier this year. So whatever effect the conversation had on Mr Trump, it doesn’t seem to have lasted.
3. TRUMP PRAISED CHINA’S CONCENTRATION CAMPS
Back to China for a moment. This one comes from an excerpt of the book, published by The Wall Street Journal.
“Trump asked me at the 2018 White House Christmas dinner why we were considering sanctioning China over its treatment of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim people who live primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang Province,” Mr Bolton says.
“At the opening dinner of the Osaka G20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.
“The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China.”
I’ve written about China’s treatment of the Uighur people before, so here is a really quick crash course to give you some context.
The Uighurs are a Muslim minority group native to Xinjiang. China has been systematically targeting them, incarcerating them en masse in Orwellian “vocational training centres”.
In truth, these centres are modern day gulags where torture and other horrifying human rights abuses are rife. As many as two million Uighurs have been locked up in them.
You can read more here, but for now let’s just say it is unthinkable that any leader of a liberal democracy could support China’s use of the camps.
4. TRUMP’S ADVISERS MOCKED HIM BEHIND HIS BACK
We already know of several close advisers who were privately disparaging of Mr Trump.
The President’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, famously called him a “f***ing moron”. Political adviser Steve Bannon said he was “like an 11-year-old child”. Former White House chief of staff John Kelly labelled him an “idiot”. And of course, short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci has slammed the President far too many times to count.
According to Mr Bolton, we can add the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to that list.
During Mr Trump’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in 2018, Mr Pompeo supposedly slipped Mr Bolton a note reading simply: “He is so full of s***.”
The “he” in question was Mr Trump, not Kim.
5. TRUMP WAS FIXATED ON GIVING KIM A CD
While we’re talking about North Korea, here is a weird one.
After that meeting we mentioned, Mr Bolton claims, the President repeatedly pestered Mr Pompeo to deliver Kim an autographed CD of Elton John’s song Rocket Man as a gift.
As you will no doubt recall, Mr Trump initially nicknamed Kim “little Rocket Man” – because the dictator kept test-firing missiles – but as the President warmed up to Kim, he turned the disparaging moniker into a term of endearment.
“Getting this CD to Kim remained a high priority for several months,” Mr Bolton writes.
The CD did end up being successfully delivered, by the way. Sadly, North Korea is still blowing stuff up.
6. TRUMP DIDN’T KNOW FINLAND WAS A COUNTRY
Mr Bolton is, to put it lightly, rather disdainful of Mr Trump’s knowledge of the world. This titbit comes from The Times.
“Mr. Trump did not seem to know, for example, that Britain was a nuclear power, and asked if Finland was a part of Russia, Mr Bolton writes. The president never tired of assailing allied leaders and came closer to withdrawing the United States from NATO than previously known.”
To be fair to the President, Finland is kind of near Russia. You have to wonder whether he knows New Zealand isn’t part of Australia.
Apparently he also said it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela.
7. DEMOCRATS COMMITTED ‘IMPEACHMENT MALPRACTICE’
The criticism in Mr Bolton’s book is not entirely reserved for Mr Trump. He also takes a swing at the Democrats for bungling their effort to remove the President from office.
He says their decision to limit the scope of the impeachment inquiry to Ukraine, instead of broadening it to include Mr Trump’s other conduct – such as the “personal favours” to dictators mentioned above – amounted to “malpractice”.
The Democrats are not happy with that assessment. They’ve hit back at Mr Bolton, saying he refused to testify about Mr Trump’s conduct while the less prominent staffers who had worked under him risked their careers to do so.
“Bolton’s staff were asked to testify before the House to Trump’s abuses, and did. They had a lot to lose and showed real courage. When Bolton was asked, he refused, and said he’d sue if subpoenaed,” said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who led the prosecution in the impeachment trial.
“Instead, he saved it for a book. Bolton may be an author, but he’s not patriot.”