President Donald Trump poses a “danger for the republic” and would be an even greater threat if he wins a second term this fall because he would be unconstrained by future electoral considerations, John R. Bolton, his former national security adviser, said in an interview aired Sunday night.
In one of the most scathing public assessments of a sitting president by such a high-ranking former aide in modern times, Bolton depicted Trump as an “erratic and impulsive” leader who cares only about his own needs, does not fully understand democracy or the Constitution, is played “like a fiddle” by Russia and is not “fit for office.”
“The concern I have, speaking as a conservative Republican, is that once the election is over, if the president wins, the political constraint is gone,” Bolton told Martha Raddatz of ABC News in his first television interview publicizing his memoir of 17 months as Trump’s top security adviser. “And because he has no philosophical grounding, there’s no telling what will happen in a second term.”
Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” has become the talk of Washington even before its scheduled publication on Tuesday. The Trump administration went to court to try to block its publication, only to be rejected by a federal judge, and the president has been railing about what he considers Bolton’s betrayal. But the beginning of the book tour means that Trump will be confronted with the portrait laid out in the volume for days or weeks to come.
Bolton, a veteran of three previous Republican administrations, says in the book that the House should have investigated Trump for impeachment not just for his Ukraine scheme but for his willingness to intervene in criminal investigations on behalf of dictators and otherwise seeking foreign help for his reelection campaign.
In the interview with ABC, he went even further by accusing Trump of lying when the president denied linking U.S. security aid to his demand that Ukraine incriminate his Democratic political rivals, and Bolton dismissed the White House defense at the Senate impeachment trial as “utter nonsense.”
Rather than being deterred by the impeachment trial, he added, Trump became emboldened by his acquittal by the Senate almost entirely along party lines. “He didn’t learn lessons from it, other than that he could get away with it, which leaves only the last guardrail — is the election this November,” Bolton said.
But even as Bolton said Trump had adopted “obstruction of justice as a way of life,” as he put it in the book, House Democrats on Sunday eschewed interest in opening new impeachment proceedings against him. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said it would be a waste of time because Senate Republicans were too “corrupt” to consider Bolton’s statements.
“The Senate Republicans were not interested in any evidence,” the chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “They were corrupt in that respect.”
The book’s revelations have been met with frustration from Capitol Hill Democrats, who were angry that the former national security adviser waited until the release of his book — for which he was reportedly paid $2 million — to accuse Trump of misdeeds that went far beyond those for which he was impeached. At the same time, Republicans dismissed the book as either false or motivated by money.
After Nadler’s appearance on CNN, Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser, appeared on the program and disputed several claims in Bolton’s book. He also said the former national security adviser should be prosecuted.
“That guy should be turning in his seersucker suit for an orange jumpsuit,” Navarro said. “John Bolton has put highly classified information sprinkled throughout a very large book. I predict this: He will not only not get the profits from that book, but he risks a jail sentence.”
Democratic leaders expressed some interest on Sunday in calling Bolton to testify before Congress. Nadler at first said he was “not interested” in hearing from Bolton, but later said his committee “may” call him to hear more about allegations that Trump considered interfering in an investigation of a state-owned Turkish bank.
“The president has done a lot of impeachable things, including what Bolton’s talking about,” Nadler said. “But we have an election coming up. We know the Republicans in the Senate will not entertain an impeachment in any event. That would at this point be a waste of time and effort.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif. and leader of the House managers who prosecuted the president during the Senate trial, accused Bolton of “cowardice” and “greed” but said that he, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in leadership would consider their next steps.
“We do need, I think, to expose the length and breadth of this president’s depravity and how much it is endangering the country,” Schiff said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” “Those facts are going to need to come out.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., another of the impeachment managers, also criticized Bolton for refusing to testify in the House’s impeachment inquiry.
“He is a political opportunist and a profiteer — he had the opportunity to step forward,” Jeffries said on the ABC program “This Week.” “And he declined.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said on Sunday that Bolton should have testified under oath in the House’s impeachment inquiry of the president, so that he could have been cross-examined on the explosive details of his memoir.
“I do wish Mr. Bolton would have come into the House, under oath, and testified,” Scott said on “This Week.” “We would have more information about fact patterns that he suggests are true.”
Scott, however, was one of the Senate Republicans who voted against calling Bolton as a witness in the Senate trial. Bolton did not testify during House proceedings, saying he would wait to see how a judge ruled on White House objections. When the Senate took up the case, Bolton volunteered to testify if subpoenaed, but Senate Republicans blocked him and any other witnesses.
On ABC, Bolton defended himself, saying House Democrats mishandled the inquiry by moving too fast and focusing too narrowly on Ukraine, turning the issue into a “partisan catfight.”
“The House Democrats built a cliff, they threw themselves off it and halfway down they looked up and saw me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come along?’” Bolton said.
But while he said his testimony would not have made a difference in the outcome, he essentially confirmed the main elements of the Democrats’ case, saying that Trump explicitly linked the security aid to his demand that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats. Asked if Trump was lying when he denied such a linkage, Bolton said: “Yes, he is. And it’s not the first time either.”
Bolton said other officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Attorney General William P. Barr all understood what the president was really doing with Ukraine. And he said the defense team’s assertion that Trump was only concerned about corruption in Ukraine was ludicrous.
“He wanted a probe of Joe Biden in exchange for delivering the security assistance that was part of the congressional legislation that had been passed several years before,” Bolton said. “So that in his mind, he was bargaining to get the investigation, using the resources of the federal government, which I found very disturbing, and I found it using national security to advance his own political position.”
Bolton said he considered Biden unacceptable and would write in “a conservative Republican” in November but made clear he hoped Trump would lose. Asked how history will remember Trump, he said: “I hope it will remember him as a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral we can’t recall from. We can get over one term.” He added, “Two terms I’m more troubled about.”