President Trump announced Tuesday that he had effectively fired national security adviser John Bolton. But two key things call into question his version of how it went down — including Bolton’s own comment.
....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.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
But just an hour before the announcement, the White House announced that Bolton would be appearing at a 1:30 p.m. news conference alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. If Bolton was on his way out as of Monday night, why did the White House press office not seem to know about it at 11 a.m. Tuesday?
Adding to the intrigue is Bolton’s comments. His tweets Monday night and Tuesday didn’t indicate anything had changed, and shortly after Trump’s tweets, he chimed in by saying, “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’ ”
I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, "Let's talk about it tomorrow."— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) September 10, 2019
Bolton went on to tell The Washington Post’s Robert Costa: “Let’s be clear, I resigned, having offered to do so last night.” Pressed further, he said: “I will have my say in due course. But I have given you the facts on the resignation. My sole concern is U.S. national security.”
Bolton, who is apparently already talking to several media outlets, offered a fuller and more direct contradiction to the Daily Beast. After it quoted White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who backed up Trump’s account, Bolton responded in a text: “[White House] press secretary statement is flatly incorrect.”
Those statements don’t necessarily add up to a complete contradiction of what Trump said, but they are pretty close. Trump implied he initiated the resignation, but Bolton says he offered it. Bolton also suggests that Trump didn’t make a final determination Monday night, even as Trump claims he had already decided and made the request.
The plot thickens as you look at Bolton’s previous tweets. On Monday night and again Tuesday morning, Bolton tweeted remembrances of 9/11. That could simply be because this week is the 18th anniversary of the attacks, but they could also be read to suggest discord with Trump over the president’s aborted plans to meet with the Taliban at Camp David.
As we reflect this week on the horrific 9/11 attack, it’s important to remember how far we’ve come in combatting radical Islamist terrorist groups but also how much work is left. We stand strong against regimes that sponsor terror & encourage violence against the US & our allies.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) September 10, 2019
Trump announced this weekend that he canceled the secret planned meeting after 12 people, including an American, were killed in Afghanistan. Bolton is extremely hawkish on foreign policy and has generally abhorred negotiating with antagonistic foreign leaders. The Washington Post has reported that Bolton has been fighting against the negotiations, while Pompeo has been supportive of them.
Bolton certainly has reason to argue that he resigned rather than that he was effectively fired -- most notably, for his own personal pride. But it’s highly unusual for former aides to so directly challenge Trump upon their departure, with the notable exception of former veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin, who maintained that Trump fired him rather than that he resigned.
Even when departed aides have left Trump’s White House or Cabinet on bad terms, they have generally been wary of even the perception of criticizing the president. Former defense secretary Jim Mattis, for instance, resigned in protest over Trump’s later-aborted plan to completely withdraw from Syria. But even on a recent book tour, he has declined to disagree directly with Trump.
Bolton, though, has always been extremely outspoken about his foreign policy, rarely shying away from taking unpopular positions. In contrast to the growing number of yes-men and -women who surround Trump, Bolton’s a true believer who logic suggests could ruffle some feathers in the weeks and months ahead — particularly if he views Trump as capitulating to America’s enemies.
A source close to Bolton just said this: “Since Ambassador Bolton has been National Security advisor over the last 17 months, there have been no bad deals.”— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) September 10, 2019
A source close to Bolton was talking in the White House shortly after the news broke, playing up the idea that he had prevented “bad deals” from being made with the likes of the Taliban, North Korea and Iran, according to CNBC reporter Eamon Javers.
It will be a fascinating dynamic, judging by Bolton’s willingness to engage on the matter less than an hour after his departure was tweeted.