Skip to main content

Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton speaks during his lecture at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., on Feb. 17, 2020.JONATHAN DRAKE/Reuters

John Bolton, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, suggested on Monday that his unpublished book contained far more revelations than just the campaign to pressure Ukraine for help with domestic politics but said he was fighting “censorship” by the White House.

In his first public appearance since the Senate impeachment trial in which Republicans refused to hear his testimony, Bolton said that the White House was trying to keep him from publishing important parts of his new memoir by terming them classified. He said he was pushing back but feared that a prepublication review could stop the book from being published next month.

“For all the focus on Ukraine and the impeachment trial and all that, to me, there are portions of the manuscript that deal with Ukraine, I view that like the sprinkles on the ice cream sundae in terms of what’s in the book,” Bolton told an audience at Duke University during a forum on foreign policy on Monday evening. “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’m hoping ultimately I can get the book published,” Bolton said at another point. “I hope it’s not suppressed.” Reminded that the president had assailed him on Twitter, Bolton said: “He tweets, but I can’t talk about it. How fair is that?”

Bolton refused to go into the details of the Ukraine matter that led to Trump’s impeachment, and he did not offer an opinion about the outcome of the trial that acquitted the president. At various points, he instead offered coy answers, suggesting it would all come out in his book if he is allowed to publish it.

His reluctance to speak out more explicitly has been enormously frustrating for months to Democrats who say that he could simply tell what he knows without waiting for a subpoena or White House permission. Indeed, the Duke audience applauded twice at suggestions that he should have testified in the House or simply given a news conference telling what he knew.

“He had every opportunity to voluntarily come forward,” Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN shortly after Bolton’s appearance at Duke. “He refused despite the fact that many others did. What John Bolton is interested in, frankly, is selling as many copies of his book as he can, period, full stop.”

Bolton, who left his post under pressure last September, was a key figure in the dealings with Ukraine, according to witnesses during the House inquiry. Fellow officials testified that Bolton had objected to the suspension of security aid to Ukraine and to the pressure campaign to get Ukraine to help incriminate Trump’s Democratic rivals, referring to it as a “drug deal” and warning that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

In the book, according to people familiar with the manuscript, Bolton writes that Trump told him in August that he did not want to release the $391-million in congressionally approved security aid for Ukraine to help it defend against Russian aggression until Ukrainian leaders agreed to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats.

Bolton did not agree to testify during the House inquiry and Democrats chose not to subpoena him, fearing a long court fight. But he offered to testify in the Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed, only to have Republicans block an effort to hear his account even after reports were published about his book.

Trump disputed Bolton’s recollections, but White House lawyers said it did not matter even if he was right because it would not add up to an offence meriting removal from office.

While the White House has asserted that the book, “The Room Where It Happened,” contains classified information that will have to be excised before it can be published, Bolton’s lawyer has denied that and said it should be released as scheduled on March 17.

Some House Democrats have talked about subpoenaing Bolton to testify on their side of the Capitol even though the trial is over, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders have indicated that they do not want to proceed with such a move at this point.

The president, on the other hand, has remained fixated on Bolton, railing about him in private conversations and complaining about what he sees as the former aide’s betrayal.

During his appearance at Duke, Bolton was questioned onstage by Peter D. Feaver, a professor and former colleague from President George W. Bush’s administration. While repeatedly ducking questions related to Ukraine or impeachment, Bolton, one of the nation’s most vocal national security hawks, was not shy about discussing his stark disagreements with Trump on foreign policy and his view that the president has not shown enough backbone against the nation’s enemies.

While praising Trump for abandoning President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, Bolton said the president had not fulfilled his own promise to strangle Tehran’s theocratic leadership through economic sanctions and other methods.

“It’s failing,” he said of Trump’s policy, “because I don’t think it lives up to its bumper-sticker slogan of maximum pressure. I don’t think we’re applying maximum pressure on Iran. I think there are countless ways during my tenure that we could have applied more pressure and we should have.”

Similarly, he denounced Trump’s diplomatic outreach to Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s totalitarian leader.

“It’s also been a failure,” Bolton said. “The pursuit of Kim Jong Un, the meetings with him and the efforts to get a deal with North Korea are doomed to failure. North Korea in the last 30 years has on four separate memorable occasions publicly committed to getting rid of nuclear weapons and just never seems to get around to doing it.”

Bolton seemed to dismiss Trump’s recent invitation to Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader, to the State of the Union address as mere show. Asked by Feaver if Trump’s strategy for Venezuela was failing too, Bolton said, “I think it is because I think we were insufficiently strong in our support for Juan Guaidó, and theatrics are not equivalent to support.”

Bolton, of course, knew what Trump’s policies were before going to work for him in 2018, but he said that he opted to take the job in hopes of shifting the administration’s direction.

“To pursue the right policies for America, I was willing to put up with a lot,” he said. “I’m not asking for martyrdom. I knew – I think I knew – what I was getting into and I did it for 17 months. I did the best I could and you can judge the results by what the policies are.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.