Bolton v Trump

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Greg Sargent has a good rundown of the issues surrounding this inane DOJ lawsuit against John Bolton to stop him from publishing his book:

Typically, when an author wants to publish a book with potentially classified information, National Security Council officials review the manuscript and enter a dialogue with the author, who edits the book until concerns are satisfied.

Those officials are supposed to act in good faith. They are supposed to ask whether the information in question legitimately should or should not be classified and whether divulging it legitimately would or would not harm the national interest.

In this case, the evidence suggests bad faith infected the process. The lawsuit itself recounts that one NSC official reviewed the book and, after revisions by Bolton, cleared it. A second official then undertook to review it, the lawsuit says.

As time passed, Bolton’s lawyer repeatedly inquired as to what was going on with that review, the lawsuit itself recounts. Again and again, an NSC official informed him that the process remained ongoing and that no new information was available.AD

Bolton concluded that the process was not unfolding in good faith, the New York Times reports, and moved forward with publication. The lawsuit’s complaint insists the process was ongoing according to protocol.

But the complaint justifies the delay unconvincingly. It notes that the official doing the second review had a “broader base of knowledge” to identify what shouldn’t have been published, a thin rationale.

In an interview, Joshua Geltzer, a senior NSC official from 2015 to 2017, pointed to serious problems with this account. Geltzer noted that a career government official with experience in this sort of vetting did the first review, and that she cleared the book after an extensive process.

It was only after that, Geltzer pointed out, that the delays suddenly started taking place without explanation. And as Geltzer also noted, the official doing that second vetting — Michael Ellis, the NSC’s senior director for intelligence — is a political appointee.

Importantly, Geltzer points out, the lawsuit itself acknowledges that this second review took place “at the request” of the current national security adviser, Robert O’Brien.

“The claim by the government that the process was still ongoing does not feel in good faith,” Geltzer told me. “The official with genuine expertise had already weighed in. Bolton seemed to be getting the runaround with the goal of simply delay.”

What might have happened here? “We know Trump doesn’t want this book to see the light of day,” Geltzer said. “It seems natural to infer that O’Brien wanted to ensure the president got his way.”

It may be true that Bolton did violate his non-disclosure agreement. But that does not exonerate the government’s handling of this process.

One complication here concerns typical Beltway murkiness, this time around the status of former government officials who reenter the private sector and want to publicly recount their experiences. That act might be undertaken for self-interested purposes, but it constitutes protected speech and has a clear public-interest dimension.

The whole process is designed the way it is in order to ensure that former officials are allowed to exercise their first amendment rights without putting national security at risk. Recognizing that the classification process is insanely capricious to begin with — Trump said yesterday that he considers all conversations with him to be classified which is utter nonsense — this situation seems to be an obvious abuse, even under the current rules.

A career employee who does this for a living cleared the book then one of Trump’s cronies took over and got his personal Roy Cohn to step in and sue Bolton to try to stop publication.

As Sargent points out:

It doesn’t matter if Bolton’s views are loathsome (which they are), or that Bolton should have disclosed information during impeachment (which he should have). At issue is something much bigger: whether Trump and/or his loyalists are manipulating a process designed to balance competing public-interest imperatives, all to protect him politically.

I don’t care if Bolton fails to make any money on the book which is what the DOJ is requesting by saying the proceeds must be put into an escrow account payable to the US Treasury. I certainly won’t spend my money on it. But by using the government to do this, the White House gives away the game that they are really seeking to intimidate Bolton. (If they really thought they could stop publication they’d have sued the publisher .)

The whole thing stinks of the usual Trump and Barr corruption. I can’t stand Bolton but I’m happy to see him fighting Trump. Anything that divides the GOP coalition is good news for America.

UPdate: A copy of the book is circulating now. Apparently, Trump was bribing many foreign leaders to help him win re-election. He simply does not understand or care that this is corrupt:

First, one more person confirms that he’s a moron:

 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 is a nuclear power and asked if Finland is part of Russia, Mr. Bolton writes. He came closer to withdrawing the United States from NATO than previously known. Even top advisers who position themselves as unswervingly loyal mock him behind his back. During Mr. Trump’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.”

Bolton also reveals that he went to Cippollone and Barr about Trump’s corruption and they evidently did nothing.

Bolton has excerpted his China chapter in the WSJ. Trump is, as is obvious, a total sucker:

Trade matters were handled from day one in a completely chaotic way. Trump’s favorite way to proceed was to get small armies of people together, either in the Oval Office or the Roosevelt Room, to argue out these complex, controversial issues. Over and over again, the same issues. Without resolution, or even worse, one outcome one day and a contrary outcome a few days later. The whole thing made my head hurt.

With the November 2018 midterm elections looming, there was little progress on the China trade front. Attention turned to the coming Buenos Aires G-20 summit the following month, when Xi and Trump could meet personally. Trump saw this as the meeting of his dreams, with the two big guys getting together, leaving the Europeans aside, cutting the big deal.

What could go wrong? Plenty, in Lighthizer’s view. He was very worried about how much Trump would give away once untethered.

In Buenos Aires on Dec. 1, at dinner, Xi began by telling Trump how wonderful he was, laying it on thick. Xi read steadily through note cards, doubtless all of it hashed out arduously in advance. Trump ad-libbed, with no one on the U.S. side knowing what he would say from one minute to the next.

One highlight came when Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for six more years, and Trump replied that people were saying that the two-term constitutional limit on presidents should be repealed for him. Xi said the U.S. had too many elections, because he didn’t want to switch away from Trump, who nodded approvingly.


Trump spoke with Xi by phone on June 18, just over a week ahead of the year’s G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, where they would next meet. Trump began by telling Xi he missed him and then said that the most popular thing he had ever been involved with was making a trade deal with China, which would be a big plus for him politically.


In their meeting in Osaka on June 29, Xi told Trump that the U.S.-China relationship was the most important in the world. He said that some (unnamed) American political figures were making erroneous judgments by calling for a new cold war with China.


Trump, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.


Whether Xi meant to finger the Democrats or some of us sitting on the U.S. side of the table, I don’t know, but Trump immediately assumed that Xi meant the Democrats. Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility to China among the Democrats. Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. 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.

Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and U.S. national interests. Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security. I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.

And here come the quid pro quos:

Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and U.S. national interests. Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security. I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.

Take Trump’s handling of the threats posed by the Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE. Ross and others repeatedly pushed to strictly enforce U.S. regulations and criminal laws against fraudulent conduct, including both firms’ flouting of U.S. sanctions against Iran and other rogue states. The most important goal for Chinese “companies” like Huawei and ZTE is to infiltrate telecommunications and information-technology systems, notably 5G, and subject them to Chinese control (though both companies, of course, dispute the U.S. characterization of their activities).

Trump, by contrast, saw this not as a policy issue to be resolved but as an opportunity to make personal gestures to Xi. In 2018, for example, he reversed penalties that Ross and the Commerce Department had imposed on ZTE. In 2019, he offered to reverse criminal prosecution against Huawei if it would help in the trade deal—which, of course, was primarily about getting Trump re-elected in 2020.

Aaaand… hes a sociopath:

I hoped Trump would see these Hong Kong developments as giving him leverage over China. I should have known better. That same month, on the 30th anniversary of China’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Trump refused to issue a White House statement. “That was 15 years ago,” he said, inaccurately. “Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal. I don’t want anything.” And that was that.

Beijing’s repression of its Uighur citizens also proceeded apace. Trump asked me at the 2018 White House Christmas dinner why we were considering sanctioning China over its treatment of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim people who live primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang Province.

At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China.

Bolton shakes his fist at China as he is wont to do and rides his own hobby horses. But it’s interesting to see all this, which we mostly already know, from the perspective of a right wing nut.

I won’t buy the book, of course. I have no interest in helping to make him rich. But it’s interesting to see some more details about Trump’s foreign policy dumpster fire. It’s important to know what the next administration (god willing) is going up against.