Former US national security adviser John Bolton has ripped into his one-time boss Donald Trump in an explosive TV interview, calling him “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed”.
Mr Bolton served in the White House for 17 months before leaving in contentious circumstances last September.
The President said he had fired Mr Bolton, citing “strong” disagreements with much of his advice. Mr Bolton claimed he had offered to resign.
Either way, the pair did not part on good terms.
Now Mr Bolton has written a book describing his time working for Mr Trump. It contains a series of troubling allegations about the President’s temperament and behaviour.
Mr Trump says it is “a compilation of lies and made up stories”. He has labelled Mr Bolton a “wacko” and a “sick puppy”.
Today ABC News in the United States aired a much-hyped interview with Mr Bolton, during which he justified several of the more shocking accusations in his book.
Most significantly, perhaps, he rubbished a key excuse Mr Trump’s legal team used to profess his innocence during the impeachment trial earlier this year.
Democrats in Congress tried to kick the President out of office for holding up military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure it into announcing an investigation of his opponent in the upcoming election, former vice president Joe Biden.
Mr Trump’s team argued he was merely concerned about corruption in Ukraine, and wanted the country to clean up its act.
Mr Bolton told ABC News that excuse was “utter nonsense”, and Mr Trump had actually been driven by his belief in a conspiracy theory.
“There is no question in my mind that the President felt that the prior Ukrainian government had been part of a conspiracy to take him down. He said that on any number of occasions,” said Mr Bolton.
“He wanted a probe of Joe Biden in exchange for delivering the security assistance that was part of the congressional legislation that had been passed several years before. So that, in his mind, he was bargaining to get the investigation using the resources of the federal government, which I found very disturbing.
“Now, in the course of the impeachment affair, the defence of the President was he cares about the general corruption in the Ukraine, and that was on his mind. That is utter nonsense.
“There’s corruption all over the world. The corruption he was concerned about in Ukraine was that they tried to take him down. And that, to me, was something that I found very disturbing.
“So did a lot of other people in very senior levels in the government. I describe that in the book. And our objective was to find a way to get the President to approve the security assistance, the military aid, and get it delivered, and not tie it to an investigation of his political opponents.”
The Democrats have criticised Mr Bolton for not coming forward to say what he knew during the impeachment investigation. Today Mr Bolton bluntly rejected that criticism.
“I was fully prepared (to testify), if I got a subpoena, like everybody else who testified got a subpoena. I think the way the House advocates of impeachment proceeded was badly wrong. Like, I think it was impeachment malpractice.”
In short, he believed the Democrats moved too quickly and focused their investigation too narrowly because they were concerned about the proceedings impacting badly on the contest for their party’s presidential nomination.
Other parts of the interview focused on the President’s handling of foreign policy beyond the affair with Ukraine.
Mr Bolton – who has worked for multiple presidents – claimed Mr Trump rarely read his intelligence briefings, and received far fewer briefings than his predecessors.
“My experience was he very rarely read much. The intelligence briefings took place perhaps once or twice a week,” he said.
“Is that unusual?” interviewer Martha Raddatz asked.
“It’s very unusual. They should take place every day,” said Mr Bolton.
“The President should read extensively the material he’s given. It is not clear to me that he read much of anything.”
He said that lack of reading made it difficult to have “sustained conversations” about foreign policy with Mr Trump, and made the President prone to sudden changes of opinion.
“I think it emphasised the way the President normally works, which is on any given day, he’s capable of making almost any given decision. And that is not, in my view, the way you should do national security policy,” Mr Bolton argued.
In the book, the former national security adviser claims Mr Trump once asked – among other gobsmacking questions – whether Finland (an independent country) was part of Russia. During the interview with Raddatz, he doubled down.
“He said those things, absolutely. And this is when people talk about the – what the policy making process was, when you’re dealing with somebody who asks questions like that. It’s very hard to know how to proceed. And this sort of incident occurred time and time again,” he said.
“There was just an unwillingness on the part of the President, I think, to do systematic learning so that he could make the most informed decisions.
“Now it’s one thing to be erratic and impulsive and episodic and anecdotal on day-to-day stuff. It’s when you get into crisis situations or very high stakes circumstances where it becomes not only important but potentially dangerous if the President doesn’t maintain the focus on what’s in front of him.”
“Describe to me – sum up Donald Trump’s foreign policy,” Raddatz said.
“Well I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think there is a policy,” said Mr Bolton.
“My point is that policy is derived from careful thinking, analysis, building up evidence, the critical strategic task of matching resources with priorities. He just doesn’t do that.
“That’s not how decision-making proceeds in the Trump administration. And it’s one reason why there seems to be a lot of zigging and zagging. There is a lot of zigging and zagging, sometimes during the same meeting, sometimes during the same day.”
He said a number of foreign leaders, and particularly dictators, had “mastered the art of ringing (Trump’s) bells”, or in other words, of manipulating him.
“I think Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle. I think Putin is smart, tough. He plays a bad hand extremely well. And I think he sees that he’s not faced with a serious adversary here. And he works on him, and he works on him, and he works on him,” Mr Bolton said.
“Chancellor (Angela) Merkel of Germany had no success. I don’t think she tried. I think she just tried to say what her position was, like a normal leader would do, and expect a response. Didn’t get it.
“But the dictators seem to be better at it than the leaders of the democracies. And I just hope that pattern is not going to persist if he’s re-elected.”
Mr Bolton said he would vote for neither Mr Trump nor Mr Biden in November’s election, instead writing in someone else’s name.
“I hope history will remember him as a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral we can’t recall from,” he said.
“We can get over one term (of Trump). Two terms, I’m more troubled about.”