Trump’s ferocious focus on the book failed to prevent details from spilling out, and may have backfired as Trump amplifies public attention on Bolton’s unflattering portrait of the president as a mendacious, inattentive leader chiefly focused on bettering his own political fortunes.
The White House continued a long-shot legal effort to block the book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” but beyond Trump’s broadsides that the book is filled with falsehoods, the White House did not seek to rebut Bolton point by point as the former aide began promoting the book.
A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe private deliberations, said Trump has been pushing White House counsel to be “very aggressive” in blocking the publication and that the Justice Department is “seriously considering” legal steps against Bolton. The official said that Bolton outmaneuvered the White House by releasing so many copies of the book early.
“I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job,” Bolton said during an ABC News interview, which is scheduled to air in full on Sunday. Excerpts aired Thursday morning.
“There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s reelection. I think he was so focused on the reelection that longer-term considerations fell by the wayside,” Bolton said.
Trump, meanwhile, called Bolton a “Wacko” and claimed that the former close aide’s account is “a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad.”
Bolton, a former diplomat who has held high-ranking positions in Republican administrations, left the White House last fall after policy disagreements with Trump. He claims he quit; Trump says he was fired.
“Many of the ridiculous statements he attributes to me were never made, pure fiction. Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he is!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The Washington Post reported extensively Wednesday on Bolton’s book after obtaining an advance copy. The 592-page memoir about Bolton’s 17 months in the White House portrays Trump as an “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed” commander in chief and lays out a series of jarring and troubling encounters among the president, his top advisers and foreign leaders.
“Said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him,” Trump wrote Thursday amid heavy media coverage of Bolton’s scathing account. “A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. Never had a clue, was ostracized & happily dumped. What a dope!”
The White House issued a news release titled “Correct The Record” that accused Bolton of seeking to “profit off of classified information to sell a book” by criticizing Trump’s handling of Russia. The White House release pointed out that Bolton had said in 2018 that he did not “see evidence” that Trump was weak on Russia, but it did not dispute Bolton’s claims in the book.
Late Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement titled, “I Was In The Room Too.” He called Bolton a “traitor” and a liar but didn’t rebut his former colleague’s claims, which included that Pompeo had mocked Trump behind his back.
Bolton’s book is the subject of an escalating legal battle with the Justice Department, which on Wednesday asked a federal judge to issue an emergency order to block its scheduled Tuesday publication.
In response late Thursday, Bolton’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, “If the First Amendment stands for anything, it is that the government does not have the power to clasp its hand over the mouth of a citizen attempting to speak on a matter of great public import.” They said Bolton has no power to stop publication given that 200,000 copies of the book have already been printed and distributed to booksellers. A hearing is set for Friday.
The Trump administration alleges that the book contains classified material. Bolton’s attorney has said that the book does not contain classified material and that it underwent an arduous review process.
The senior White House official said there is an investigation underway into whether Bolton disclosed any classified material.
Attorney General William P. Barr could face considerable pressure from Trump to take legal action against Bolton.
In his book, Bolton writes that Trump regularly encouraged Barr to charge John F. Kerry, the former secretary of state in the Obama administration, with violating the Logan Act over his conversations with Iranian officials.
The Logan Act is a relatively obscure and seldom-enforced law that prohibits private citizens from conducting diplomacy. Barr never agreed to do it, and Bolton said he repeatedly told the president why it would be legally problematic.
One former administration official who was mentioned prominently in the book said the book struck him as “accurate.”
“I knew he took notes, and he’d go back to the office and write down the notes, but I didn’t realize he took down that many notes,” said the former official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments of both Bolton and the White House effort to sidetrack the book.
“He was always taking notes,” the official said. “I’m not sure how I feel about him releasing notes about every single thing he saw and heard, but the book does not seem wrong to me.”
One former senior administration official said that Trump was fixated on blocking the book, repeatedly telling advisers in recent days that it had to happen at all costs and that Bolton needed to go to jail.
“They aren’t going to stop the book, and it’s just giving the book more and more attention,” this person said.
On Thursday, the White House circulated talking points to allies, asking them to argue publicly that Bolton broke the law and simply wanted to make money.
“Mere months after he left the White House, Bolton negotiated a $2 million deal and drafted a 500 plus page manuscript rife with classified information,” the talking points say.
The Republican National Committee circulated talking points with a mock cover of the book: “THE ROOM WHERE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN: Trying to Salvage One’s Career: EGOMANIAC, WARMONGER, LIAR.”
Some of Trump’s allies went on a public relations offensive, using the hashtag “BOOK DEAL BOLTON” on social media and calling him disloyal.
“He’s a total skunk,” Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said in an interview. “No one will ever trust him again.”
Giuliani said he believes Bolton is “lying” about Trump’s actions and motives.
On Capitol Hill, Republican senators largely avoided the subject of whether Trump had behaved improperly in office, as Bolton’s portrait alleges.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who recently assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked about Bolton’s assertion that Trump appealed to Chinese President Xi Jinping for help improving his reelection odds by buying U.S. agricultural products.
“How can somebody opine on that? I wasn’t there. The president says that didn’t happen. He’s saying that it did. I mean, I have no reason to call him a liar; I have no reason to call the White House a liar,” Rubio told reporters.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said House Democrats should have compelled Bolton to testify during impeachment proceedings late last year, rather than complain now about his account of how Trump delayed $400 million in aid to Ukraine to pressure officials to investigate his political rivals — the crux of the impeachment charges.
“I think the House had plenty of opportunity to call him before they got the case over here,” Blunt said of the Senate, which acquitted Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Bolton refused to testify voluntarily during the House impeachment inquiry, and House impeachment leaders decided not to prolong the process by fighting Bolton in court. Bolton was willing to testify in the Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed, but Blunt and other Senate Republicans voted against calling witnesses. “They had all the time in the world. They failed to do that. That was the big failure of the process from the House side in the start,” Blunt said.
He did not answer when asked whether he was troubled by Bolton’s assessment that Trump is unfit.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) defended his vote against calling witnesses.
“The question was, in the trial, did I need any more evidence to be convinced that President Trump did what he was accused of doing? I said he did it. I was convinced. I didn’t need any more evidence,” Alexander said. “I simply said that didn’t rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, which would qualify for conviction on impeachment.”
Netanyahu denied Bolton’s claim that the long-serving Israeli leader had doubts about Kushner, whom Trump has tasked with drafting a Middle East peace proposal.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has complete faith in Jared Kushner’s abilities and resolve and rejects any description to the contrary,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
“Kushner has greatly contributed to furthering peace in the Middle East,” the statement said.
Kushner’s plan, released earlier this year after many delays, would consolidate Israeli control of key parts of the West Bank and offer Palestinians a path to conditional autonomy. Palestinian leaders rejected it, and the effort is now dormant.
John Wagner, Spencer Hsu, Rosalind Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Paul Kane in Washington and Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.