His ability to speak was restrained, he said, because of the White House “prepublication review” of his forthcoming book “and threats of possible legal action.”
In a 90-minute question-and-answer session before students, faculty and members of the public at Duke University, Bolton voiced familiar hard-line views on North Korea, Iran and other issues. He said he viewed Ukraine and the impeachment “as sprinkles on the ice cream sundae” compared with other subjects he deals with in the book.
Asked whether he agreed with the president’s assessment that Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect,” Bolton said “You’ll love Chapter 14.”
Bolton left the administration in September, after 17 months as Trump’s third national security adviser, following policy rifts with the president. Trump announced via Twitter that he had fired Bolton, although Bolton, also via Twitter, said he had resigned. Bolton’s book about his time at the White House, titled “The Room Where It Happened,” is scheduled to be published on March 17.
Portions of the book were leaked to the New York Times, including Bolton’s firsthand account of what he said were discussions with Trump about the president’s withholding of aid to Ukraine unless its government investigated his Democratic political rivals. Those allegations became the basis of Trump’s impeachment in December.
After the impeachment, Bolton offered to testify at the subsequent Senate trial, if subpoenaed, but the Republican majority voted not to call witnesses. This month, the Senate acquitted the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction. In recent weeks, the White House — to which Bolton submitted his book for national security vetting — has told him it has “serious concerns” about what it says is classified information in the book.
Bolton’s lawyer has disputed that assessment and asked for the White House to expedite completion of its review. It remains unclear whether publication will go ahead without White House approval.
“I hope it’s not suppressed,” Bolton said. “This is an effort to write history, and I did it the best I can. We’ll have to see what comes out of the censorship.”
“I say things in the manuscript about what he said to me,” he said. “I hope they become public someday. He tweets, but I can’t talk about it. How fair is that?”
Bolton hinted that the book contains revelations on a number of subjects, but he declined to answer a number of specific questions. Asked for his account of Trump’s controversial meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the summer of 2018, he said, “I could read a chapter from my book and give you an answer.”
“In my view, to pursue the right policies for America, I was willing to put up with a lot,” he said.
Bolton has denied leaking any of the manuscript and suggested that the revelations came from within the administration. “Probably with leaks coming out of the administration, in due course you’ll know everything that’s in the book.”
He voiced his well-known views about North Korea, saying that the administration’s effort to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program was “going to fail.”
Despite Trump’s claims that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said he would do so, Bolton said there was “not a single piece of evidence that the government of North Korea intends to give up nuclear weapons.”
“This idea that they can be coaxed into giving up … their nuclear program was flawed from the start,” he said.
Pyongyang, he said, was “jiving the Americans” and is getting closer every day to the capability of dropping a nuclear weapon on American cities.
On Venezuela, Bolton said the administration’s “theatrics” were “not equivalent to support” for the removal of the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
Bolton said China, which he described as “the number one national security issue for the rest of the century,” may have known about the coronavirus epidemic “weeks and weeks before it was announced.”
About 1,000 people attended the free event. Outside, a protest drew about two dozen students and faculty members who objected to Bolton’s hard-line views.
After Bolton’s appearance was announced earlier this month, all available tickets were distributed within minutes.
Duke University has its own connection to prior impeachments. Richard M. Nixon, Class of 1937, and former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Class of 1973, earned their law degrees there.
Bolton is also scheduled to speak Wednesday, alongside former Obama administration national security adviser Susan E. Rice, at Vanderbilt University.
Ross reported from Durham, N.C.