Bolton: Trump Asked China to Help Re-Election
Some explosive charges in the former National Security Advisor's book.
It has long been rumored that John Bolton, who declined to testify during the Trump impeachment hearings, was instead saving the juicy details for his tell-all book. The other shoe dropped yesterday.
WaPo (“Trump asked China’s Xi to help him win reelection, according to Bolton book“):
President Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 U.S. election, telling Xi during a summit dinner last year that increased agricultural purchases by Beijing from American farmers would aid his electoral prospects, according to a damning new account of life inside the Trump administration by former national security adviser John Bolton.
During a one-on-one meeting at the June 2019 Group of 20 summit in Japan, Xi complained to Trump about China critics in the United States. But Bolton writes in a book scheduled to be released next week that “Trump immediately assumed Xi meant the Democrats. Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility among the Democrats.
“He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Bolton writes.
“He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.”
At the same meeting, Xi also defended China’s construction of camps housing as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang — and Trump signaled his approval. “According to our interpreter,” Bolton writes, “Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.”
NYT’s Peter Baker (“Bolton Says Trump Impeachment Inquiry Missed Other Troubling Episodes“) adds:
Mr. Bolton describes several episodes where the president expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations “to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” citing cases involving major firms in China and Turkey. “The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Mr. Bolton writes, saying that he reported his concerns to Attorney General William P. Barr.
Mr. Bolton also adds a striking new accusation by describing how Mr. Trump overtly linked tariff talks with China to his own political fortunes by asking President Xi Jinping to buy American agricultural products to help him win farm states in this year’s election. Mr. Trump, he writes, was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.” Mr. Bolton said that Mr. Trump “stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”
While other books by journalists, lower-level former aides and even an anonymous senior official have revealed much about the Trump White House, Mr. Bolton’s volume is the first tell-all memoir by such a high-ranking official who participated in major foreign policy events and has a lifetime of conservative credentials. It is a withering portrait of a president ignorant of even basic facts about the world, susceptible to transparent flattery by authoritarian leaders manipulating him and prone to false statements, foul-mouthed eruptions and snap decisions that aides try to manage or reverse.
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. He said it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela.
At times, Mr. Trump seemed to almost mimic the authoritarian leaders he appeared to admire. “These people should be executed,” Mr. Trump once said of journalists. “They are scumbags.” When Mr. Xi explained why he was building concentration camps in China, the book says, Mr. Trump “said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.” He repeatedly badgered Mr. Barr to prosecute former Secretary of State John F. Kerry for talking with Iran in what he insisted was a violation of the Logan Act.
In the face of such behavior, even top advisers who position themselves as unswervingly loyal mock Mr. Trump behind his back. During the president’s 2018 meeting with North Korea’s leader, according to the book, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped Mr. Bolton a note disparaging the president, saying, “He is so full of shit.” A month later,
Mr. Bolton writes, Mr. Pompeo dismissed the president’s North Korea diplomacy, declaring that there was “zero probability of success.”
The Post’s David Ignatius observes, not unreasonably, “John Bolton’s book is full of startling revelations he should have told us sooner.”
As much as you think you know about the arrogance, vanity and sheer incompetence of Trump’s years in the White House, Bolton’s account will still astonish you. He narrates his 17 months as national security adviser in remarkable detail. He seems to have collated every Trump rant, reckless phone call, and muttered aside. No wonder the White House was so determined to block this book: It eviscerates Trump’s foreign policy record and exposes him, in Bolton’s words, as “stunningly uninformed.”
Bolton offers new tidbits about Ukraine, the issue on which Trump was impeached and where Democrats desperately sought Bolton’s testimony. He confirms an aide’s account that Bolton viewed Trump’s Ukraine machinations as a “drug deal,” provides new evidence that “Ukraine security assistance was at risk of being swallowed by the Ukraine fantasy conspiracy theories.” In sum, he says, “the whole affair was bad policy, questionable legally, and unacceptable as presidential behavior.” This account should deeply embarrass Republican senators who offered unblinking defenses of Trump’s Ukraine actions during the impeachment trial. [NARRATOR: It would not embarrass Senate Republicans.]
The great achievement of this book is that it links the Ukraine fiasco to Trump’s other foreign policy misdeeds. Indeed, Bolton argues that the Democrats committed “impeachment malpractice” because the Ukraine focus “provided no opportunity to explore Trump’s ham-handed involvement in other matters . . . that should not properly be subject to manipulation by a President for personal reasons.”
Bolton’s takeaway line: “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations.”
Perhaps the most startling new disclosure is that Trump sought political help from China’s Xi Jinping, just as he had expressed support for a Russian email dump in 2016 and Ukrainian political favors in his famous July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Now, it almost certainly wouldn’t have mattered if Bolton had revealed all of this during the impeachment hearings. The House would, presumably, have impeached on additional charges if he had. But there was no way there were going to be 67 votes to impeach in a Republican-majority Senate. It’s conceivable that a handful of Republicans would have joined Mitt Romney in voting for at least one or two charges. But Trump would still be in office.
Indeed, given the ephemeral nature of the news cycle, it’s possible that waiting this long means Bolton’s revelations will do more damage. We’re much closer to the election now.
But, again, I’m not sure who it is that’s going to be surprised at this date by Trump’s willing to break laws and norms to advance his interests, much less that he’s a moron.
“The great achievement of this book is that it links the Ukraine fiasco to Trump’s other foreign policy misdeeds. Indeed, Bolton argues that the Democrats committed “impeachment malpractice” because the Ukraine focus “provided no opportunity to explore Trump’s ham-handed involvement in other matters . . . that should not properly be subject to manipulation by a President for personal reasons.””
Of course, by refusing to testify to Congress during the impeachment inquiry, Bolton ensured that such other matters would not be explored, as Congress had no reason to know they existed.
I’m sure Vindman knew as much when he testified. But that didn’t discourage him from doing his duty. Bolton, however, has shown himself to be completely corrupt and self-serving.
And, of course, it should also be noted that Republicans in Congress are totally OK with selling out their country to China, Turkey, Russia, whoever. The contents of Bolton’s book are hardly a surprise.
While I agree with that, your tone kind of lets Bolton off the hook a bit insofar as he knew these things and refused to testify to the House. That is an egregious ethical failure, especially when he clearly was hoping to boost book sales. Bolton is not the patriot he thinks he is, but rather nothing but a grifter (not that that is a new revelation).
You couldn’t even make this shit up. They say you have to hit rock bottom in order to see the need for change. Here’s to hoping Trump is America’s rock bottom.
I think the most surprising this about this is that Bolton is not the patriot he pretends to be. Of course, most who who preen like he does are just phonies. Witness evangelicals.
Xi plays Trump like a piano. Who didn’t know that?
But in his actions Bolton reveals himself as just another greedy piece of shit.
@Jim Brown 32: If you knew some of my neighbors, you’d know that bottom is still quite a ways away.
There have been so many Trump lies over the years, but I keep coming back to the one during the campaign where he said he had changed and now was going to be “greedy for America.” Obviously someone like that was never going to change when he got more power.
He’s just an amazingly and thoroughly terrible person. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I still am!
@Steven L. Taylor:
All I can say beyond this is “Fuck John Bolton.”
And the best thing that can happen is that Trump drags out the period where the book cannot be released while the press release all the juicy bits to the public ultimately depressing sales for a person who put profit over the patriotism that he so virtuously signaled until it actually would have negatively affected him to actually practice.
If nothing else, Bolton provides Biden with a line of counter attack to Tiny’s charges that Joe is soft on China. Dems need to beat to death the Ivanka connection and $ millions that Tiny owes Chinese banks
I also want to note that Senate Republicans knew Bolton had information, pertinent to the Impeachment proceedings, and were too cowardly to hear it.
All 51 of them should be tarred and feathered.
I’m sure a tell-all book on Bolton would be destructive to his persona.
To be fair, everyone has embarrassing indiscretions and secrets in their past, but not everyone builds up a facade so unlike their real character.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Oh, absolutely. I thought that was rather established at this point but likely worth stating in the piece beyond just mild agreement with Ignatius.
@James Joyner: And I know you hold that view. I just wanted to underscore it. While I am not surprised by any of this, I find Bolton’s behavior to be truly outrageous.
BTW, El PITO is claiming on one hand Bolton’s book is all lies and fiction, and in the other that it contains classified information and therefore should not be published.
Aside from the fact the cat is out of the bag, has run around the house, and has killed three mice, does Trump mean the book contains false and fictitious classified information?
@Kathy: No one has ever credibly accused DJT of intellectual consistency. (Or, really, of being intellectual or even being especially consistent as a general matter).
Trump is undercutting his own legal case with these comments.
Aside from that, I think this is more of the usual Trumpian “I’ll hurl whatever sh!t I can put my hands on at the wall and see what sticks.” If he can get people to buy that the book is a breach of national security, fine. If he can get them to buy that it’s made-up crap, that’s also fine. Either will do. The contradiction is immaterial to him. He may not even notice it.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Well, the Trumpian thing for Bolton to do later on, is to thank Trump for drawing so much attention to his book that it outsold “The Art of the Deal” by orders of magnitude more than he expected.
@Steven L. Taylor:
I vividly recall back in 2016 when Trump changed his position on abortion three times in a single day–or, to be precise, three times between lunch hour and the cocktail hour. First he said the woman having the abortion should be published. Then he said the doctor performing the abortion should be punished. Then , as we were coming up on time-to-have-a-drink, he said that the law should be left as it is.
True, but presumably forcing Republican Senators to go on record with their acceptance of such egregious details would have been more damaging to those Senators and the broader GOP. It’s not only about Trump. By waiting until now, Bolton has given everyone in the GOP outside of Trump’s inner circle a “we didn’t know the full extent” defense, however laughable it may be.
Those who read this blogs comment section regularly know that I’m not surprised that a majority of Republicans have no meaningful principles and will accept whatever is put in front of them by the leaders of their “team”. I’ve long said that in any large group a small percentage of its members are forces for good, a small percentage are forces for bad, and the large majority are just mush. The direction of the party, and thereby it’s relative merit, is dependent on the interplay between those two small percentages at the extremes.
I was wrong about the a Republican Party though. There, the small percentage for good is virtually non-existent, comprised of just one member: Mitt Romney. None of the rest have any meaningful principles whatsoever. So there is no interplay. Just levels of badness.
@MarkedMan: You have a higher opinion of Mitt Romney, the second biggest liar in the Republican party, than I do.
Sure, but who will edit the manuscripts, Planned Parenthood? Pretty sure the Hyde amendment bars that.
Aaaaggh! I didn’t notice that till you pointed it out. (I’m really bad at proofreading my own writing.) I could think of a joke here, but I’m too tired.
@CSK: Oh man, if I had a nickel. And to be honest I re-read what I typed 3 or more times before hitting ‘post’ to avoid all the painful poetic justice.
@gVOR08: My opinion of the weather vane known as Mitt Romney has improved considerably. Up until recently I thought he had no principles at all, but now it appears there is a level he won’t stoop to after all. Imagine my surprise.
It astounds me that today Mitt Romney the best the Republicans had to offer. This is a guy who literally made his fortune by ending pensions for the employees of the companies he took over and pocketing the money.
Here’s a too absurd scenario which sounds actually plausible in this 4th year of the Crazy Era (aka 2020 CE):
Suppose Romney launched an independent campaign for president, but only got on the ballot in Utah. He takes enough Republican votes there to give the state to Biden.
Less crazy, and more plausible, convince Utah Republicans who can’t vote for Biden to either abstain or, better, to vote for Romney as a write-in candidate (if Utah allows this), or even to void their ballots on purpose to show their distaste for both candidates. Whatever lets them save face and kick Trump out.
I doubt the Bolton book will provide any stunningly unexpected revelations to those who follow this blog on a regular basis.
Point of fact Finland was part of Russia for over 100 years, through most of the 19th Century and the beginning of this one. But then maybe Bolton didn’t know that. Far as wheat and soy, we compete with Brazil and Argentina and others to sell to China, a huge buyer of these economically important American commodities. One hopes the President would be an effective salesman.
@bbear: Oops!. By “beginning of this one” I meant “beginning of the 20th.” Time flies when you’re having fun.
BFD. Just about every country now in existence was part of some other political entity in the past. You know, like the US is somehow not thought of as being part of Spain, Mexico, Great Britain, France, and Holland.
As to Finland in particular, they were invaded by the USSR in the early days of WWII. That moved the country to forge ties with the Nazis. So it’s kind of an important bit of knowledge.
If someone in the White House could provide us with a daily list of all the blanks Trump draws (“Who’s John Boehner?”) to all the idiotic errors he makes, we’d probably be flabbergasted*. There is no bottom to the well of his ignorance.
*And entertained. It would be thigh-slappingly funny.
@OzarkHillbilly: I know what you mean. I never expected it either. Especially considering he started his career as a
grifter greenmailer vultuventure capitalist.
And to think Gary Johnson lost all respect for drawing a momentary blank on Aleppo.
Yes. But it’s interesting that the progenitors of Cult45, the Palinistas, not only forgave Sarah Palin her ignorance (which admittedly seems to be less profound than Trump’s), but regarded it as one of her assets, just as her garbled speech indicated to them that she was one of them, a true American, incapable of speaking a five word grammatically correct declarative sentence.
@Kathy: Hi Kathy…
We’re not thought of as being part of Spain, Mexico, Great Britain, France or Holland because we never have been. With Britain, we didn’t become the U.S. till after we’d exited colonial status. Subsequently, we came into possession of lands to which the others you cite had previously held claim. Parts is parts, to coin a phrase. Whereas the nation of Finland existed as a constituent sovereignty within the sovereignty of the Russian nation, somewhat as the USSR’s constituent republics would do later on. It’s a small point, but perhaps Trump dimly recalled a trace of it from his school-boy days long ago and that prompted his question. And, yes, Finland fought on the side of Germany in WW2, and also, I believe, later fought against Germany too. Now part of the EU…
Read a history book. The “thirteen colonies” were inhabited by British subjects. The territories acquired in the Louisiana purchase were property, variously, of Spain and France, under Spanish or French jurisdiction. Florida was also Spanish, as was Puerto Rico. The territories stolen from Mexico* were likewise part and under the jurisdiction of Mexico.
BTW, if you want to make excuses for every blunder, idiocy, mendacity, display of ignorance, lie, falsehood, mistake, unforced error, or outright display of all lack of critical thinking skills by Trump, you won’t have time to do anything else.
*Texas is a more complicated case.
Riiiight…Finland has been an independent country for over 100 years, but of course it would be too much to expect the president of the United States to know this information…
Selling is one thing, but specifically to help a president get reelected? Obviously your standards are quite low for the Commander-in-Chief…a Trump supporter, no doubt…
In a just world Bolton would have testified and Republicans would have voted to impeach and convict Trump.
That was never going to happen. Never, ever!
You are applying white hat rules to people who would throw their own grandmother under the bus for two or six more years.
Bolton is a man of his party and time. Had he testified, we would have felt justified correctly, but the outcome was *always* going to be acquit.
I do not absolve him. Bolton sold his soul then he sold his story. He is a supremely shitty person.
But Bolton testifying then would not have changed the outcome.
Arguably, having the assertions come out now is better if you want Trump to be defeated.
Which is more important? Bolton’s flaws or the evils Bolton observed Trump committing.
@An Interested Party:
It’s too bad Finland never did anything notable against Russia (or the USSR) in the 20th Century, like for instance some sort of Winter War that anyone with even a bit of history might have heard of.