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The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir Hardcover – Illustrated, May 12, 2020
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Unfortunately, leaked quotes to the New York Times did not sway Bolton’s fellow Republicans in the Senate in the way that his actual testimony (or even a press conference or sworn affidavit) could have.
Bolton, not lacking in self-regard, has no regrets about his decision not to testify. He even, near the end of this book, bizarrely, accuses the House Managers of committing “impeachment malpractice” by not making a broader case. (He chooses to forget that Trump ordered complete non-cooperation from federal employees and also forbade everyone from turning over any requested documents.)
It was only because of the testimonies of people far, far braver than John Bolton—and some good lawyering—that the Democrats were able to build a strong case against President Trump. (Bolton writes that they should have taken their time—apparently also forgetting that the impeachment was about Trump “cheating to win” (again) in 2020. “Cheating to win an upcoming election” wasn’t the kind of danger to democracy that Democrats could pursue at their leisure.)
Fortunately, there were some public servants who were far braver than NSA Bolton, including his own subordinates—Fiona Hill and Lt. Commander Alex Vindman. Unlike their boss, they risked their careers and saw their reputations falsely smeared, in order to do the right thing for their country. (In Vindman’s case, Trump not only fired him in retaliation for responding to the subpoena, he also fired his twin brother, an NSC lawyer with no involvement at all in the impeachment.
I thought Bolton might have praised Vindman and Hill and the others who DID testify in spite of the risks. But, based on how he comes across in this 500+ page memoir, Bolton's not apparently the self-reflective type, and so, he doesn’t.
For those expecting a juicy, gossipy book, this really isn't it. Most of the best quotes have already become public. (As has the president's stunning ignorance. Bolton tells us Trump didn't know that Finland is a country or that the UK is a nuclear power.) Much of this book is about Bolton doing his job as NSA. He writes a lot about his work--and makes it sound like work--the meetings he took with others, the policies he wanted to see in North Korea...Syria...Iran...China... Europe, etc. Honestly, a lot of this is very dull--and worse, if you don't even like the policies.
Also, I didn't find Bolton a very satisfying observer, maybe because of his political orientation. Time and again, he's in an interesting situation, but doesn't have much of interest to say about it. One example is that press conference between Putin and Trump in Helsinki, which was televised in full, following their one-on-one two hour meeting. Bolton leaves out the context of the two men's answers--he shares Trump's dislike of reporters--and his summaries of what was said is poor. As always, he shortchanges the importance of the Mueller investigation, including that just three days earlier Mueller indicted 13 Russians for their interference with the U.S. 2016 election. He does mention what a bombshell Trump's expressed support for Putin over U.S. intel was, but doesn't write about the event or followup in a very interesting way. (Maybe Dan Coats will write a memoir some day. Trump's DNI almost resigned over Helsinki, per Bolton.) As with the rest of the book we really don't get much sense of Donald Trump as a personality--what Bolton believes that the president is thinking and feeling, why he does what he does. (Again, if only the writer was a journalist or historian.)
Bolton clearly sees Putin as a U.S. adversary, and one who is in control of the Putin-Trump relationship. It surprised me that he didn't see this as a greater threat to the U.S. because of Trump's ongoing subservience to him, shown in Helsinki as other places. He -does- seem more alarmed by the realization that this as a pattern--how easily foreign autocrats and dictators, including Kim, Xi and Erdogan, find it to manipulate Donald Trump by appealing to his self-interest and his vanity.
(I -was- interested in the description of Putin as having two ways of interacting with others "either humiliating them or dominating them". (Sound familiar?) But this is just an aside. There's a blandness to much of Bolton's narrative, a passivity that makes you want a journalist or historian "in the room" instead.)
Bolton's narrative makes it clear that Trump doesn't care one bit for human rights, democracy or the rule of law. He encourages Xi Jinping to build concentration camps to imprison China's 1 million Uighurs. He only makes a statement about Saudi buddy Muhammed bin Salman's role in the grisly murder of journalist--and American resident--Jamal Khashoggi--because he wants to distract reporters from Ivanka's abuse of private email.
Trump's betrayal of the Syrian Kurds'--for years acknowledged as such courageous and reliable U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS--marks another deplorable chapter in U.S. foreign policy. Trump's heartless comments as he plans to abandon the Kurds--including their families and villages--to Turkish troops are too painful to repeat here. Bolton had left by the time the policy was finalized, but he obviously also didn't care. To him, the fate of Syrian Kurds was simply, "all about Iran". Mattis resigned over it, but Bolton never asks himself who would ever trust the United States again? Trump managed to turn his one foreign policy success in the Middle East into an abject failure.
It can be disconcerting when a writer's personality and political viewpoint differ so strongly from one's own. For example, Bolton describes a trip to NATO headquarters that sent Mattis, Kelly and himself into a panic. Trump--always eager to undermine NATO (coincidentally, also a top Putin goal)--was going to threaten to leave if Germany didn't "pay what they owed". Bolton says he "doesn't know" if Trump actually was wrong--over and over--about the arrangement or just was short-handing the fact that it was about NATO countries funding their military defense, not money..
Well, you don't need national security clearance to know that Trump absolutely doesn't understand that NATO nations' are talking about the amount they're spending on their own defense, not something paid into a mutual "kitty" (they have one of those, too, but that's never what Trump is badgering them about.) As usual, his target was Germany, whose leader--a woman--has emerged as the global leader of democracies, now that the U.S. has abdicated the role. Anyway, the meeting is tense, and eventually it ends without the U.S. withdrawing from yet another international agreement (Bolton, by the way, hates the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran Nuclear Deal. In this, he and Trump are quite simpatico.) There's a large group at the end and Merkel extends her hand. Instead of shaking it, Trump bends down and kisses her on both cheeks, exclaiming, "I love Angela!" The onlookers, according to Bolton, applaud. He seems to feel this was a good moment. I felt embarrassed by my president and his team when reading it. (The Bush back rub wasn't bad enough?)
Despite taking his book title from the hit musical "Hamilton", Bolton does little to create scenes and make events and personalities come alive. Much of this book is dry and dull. Still, Bolton may deserve –some- credit anyway for bringing it out before the election. (It’s really not ALL about the $2 million from Simon & Schuster, right?) He has, after all, made himself widely disliked on both the right and the left—and also has antagonized the ever-vindictive president and his powerful lackeys, including the attorney general. Trump and Barr have already indicated that they will make sure that Bolton -does- pay a price for making Trump look so bad,
There've been a lot of unflattering quotes from this book--probably most of the interesting things are already out there. But he also appears to whitewash Trump's personality and his lack of dexterity with the language. Bolton mentions how the president is unfocused and talks too much (including during his infrequent intelligence briefings). But he never tries to capture the rambling, repetitive, often disturbing quality of Trump's unique style of verbal expression. Trump here, like everyone else, speaks in short, succinct phrases whenever directly quoted. In fact, everyone in direct quotes basically sounds the same. Did the publisher want quote marks in the text even though these are obviously NOT exact quotes?
Again, I want a journalist or historian "in the room" with Trump on these occasions. I want to know what was really said.
Bolton doesn't represent Trump's unique verbal style--or his well-known temper and tirades, He does, at times, remind you of how often he fires people--and how often they quit. Or, as in Bolton's case, it's both. Bolton quit and gave notice, only to have Trump jump the gun and announce that Bolton had been fired. It's credible because we saw him do the same with SOD James Mattis.
In one of the most disturbing quotes, Bolton observes that "obstruction of justice as a way of life" for Trump. He warns that if he is re-elected, the "last guardrail" on the president--his obsession with being reelected--will be removed. At that point, Bolton--who sees in Trump an opportunist with no core principles or philosophy--could do anything that he felt benefited him personally. Given his warmth toward the world's dictators and autocrats--Putin, Kim Jung Un, Saudi MBS, Turkey's Erdogan, Xi--the potential for even greater corruption in a second term is huge. Even now, Bolton describes Trump promising Erdogan he will intervene in a case involving the Turkish bank and SDNY "as soon as I put my people in". (Will he do the same for his major lender, Deutschebank? We don't know how interconnected his personal interests are with the financial perks from the dictators of the world since he refuses to release his tax returns.).
Bolton worked for George W. Bush, GWH Bush, and Ronald Reagan. But his 17 months with Donald Trump convinced him that not only was Trump unlike any other U.S. president, he was unfit to hold the office. Unfit, yet with Trump's 89% popularity with Republicans according to recent polls, and with the generally unwavering support from elected Republicans, it's hard to know if Bolton's intended audience will be reading this. Election Day is less than five months away. The question you're left with is:: Will Bolton's warning make any difference?
These misdeeds include offering better trade terms to China, the major threat to the US, for China's reelection help, as well as dismissal of criminal investigations of major Chinese and Turkish companies by Trump and A.G. Barr's NY Federal prosecutors. Trump's baseless praise of China's pandemic role in January and February, and his failure for over 2 months to lead on virus containment, now become more understandable --- in effect, to hell with saving American lives, Trump wanted to get reelected and thereby avoid prosecution, so he was soft on China.
Trump has already severely harmed the national security, economic survival and public health of tens of millions of Americans (including many misguided MAGA militants). Trump, and his accomplices like Barr and Rudy Giuliani, potentially face charges of corruption, obstruction and more. They know well that almost 50 of Nixon's top aides were convicted of felonies after Nixon resigned.
All of them fear prosecution above all else, it seems clear to me as an experienced lawyer.
Moreover, Trump and Barr's recent desperate effort, to remove overnight the top NY prosecutor, indicates further that Trump's fear of prosecution is increasing. This prosecutor was reportedly overseeing multiple criminal investigations involving Trump, Rudy and potentially even Barr, among others. Announcement of these prosecutions would both hurt Trump's reelection chances and increase the likelihood Trump could be prosecuted in January when his term ends.
It certainly appears, in light of this book, that Trump and Barr seek at a minimum to delay public announcements of imminent prosecutions until after November's elections. Given Democratic and media vacillation and timidity, Trump and Barr may still get enough of a delay, as Barr likely will continue to undermine the temporary lead NY prosecutor. But Trump could still lose reelection, which may make a military coup his final option to try to stay in the White House.
So, Trump (who cannot pardon himself) urged, in his recent failed Tulsa rally for his "virus exposed" followers (including his kids and through them, his grandkids), that they risk a fatal virus to help him avoid prosecution by keeping him in the White House, perhaps indefinitely, as Trump has mentioned several times!
Bolton’s book shows clearly that Trump was willing, apparently criminally, to end Federal criminal prosecutions as favors to Turkish President Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping—and that he asked Xi for agricultural purchases to help Trump's 2020 reelection. But what if Trump loses in November? Will he leave the White House? Joe Biden has indicated that his worst nightmare is that Trump will not leave voluntarily even if he loses in November.
The transition from Desperate Don to Dictator Don is becoming clearer. The Don's recent use of carefully assembled military power in DC to attack forcefully peaceful protestors, as well as his ongoing pressure on the Pentagon, signal his likely attempt to try to use military power to stay in the White House, even after his increasingly likely rout by Joe Biden and Democratic Senator-elects in November. Trump would likely claim, without sufficient evidence, that mail-in ballots were fraudulent so he needs to continue in office! Trump is also likely to continue to stoke a bloody confrontation between his heavily armed white supremacist supporters and unarmed Black Lives Matter protestors to "justify" sending in regular army troops under Trump's command. "to maintain the peace".
Bolton was a complicit eye-witness for some of the misdeeds he describes in detail. Now, he disgracefully seeks to cash in on his cowardly complicity in these overdue revelations. At the same time, Bolton shamelessly tries to maintain his option to be a leading Republican indefinitely. Like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham and 51 other Senate Republicans, Bolton has neither shame nor principles.
Trump's traitorous "deals" with the US major threats, China and Russia, are amply described by an embittered yet bellicose Bolton. We see how Trump corruptly and unpatriotically sought China's dictatorial leader, Xi, help in the upcoming US presidential election. Trump even gives Xi a pass on concentration camps for over a million Muslim Chinese. Apparently, this was no big deal for Trump, after watching helpless Mexican immigrants suffer and even die in his own internment camps on the US southern border.
Bolton's censored book is bad enough on Trump's sellout to US enemies. But the uncensored version is even worse. For example, according to an unredacted passage shown to Vanity Fair, Trump’s request to Xi is even more crudely shocking when you read Trump’s specific language. “Make sure I win,” Trump allegedly told Xi during a dinner at the G20 conference last summer. “I will probably win anyway, so don’t hurt my farms.… Buy a lot of soybeans and wheat and make sure we win.” We? Traitorous from all indications! One can only imagine what "great deals" Dictator Don made in secret with his other pal, Putin.
Bolton inexcusably and unpatriotically failed to disclose earlier these seemingly traitorous actions. Had Bolton spoken out earlier, as he could and should have, Trump wouldn't have so easily been able to help China cover-up its 2019 Covid catastrophe for so long. Had Bolton spoken out when he should have, tens of thousands of American lives and millions of American jobs likely would have been saved by earlier virus containment countermeasures that have saved so many lives and jobs in many other countries, including South Korea.
Trump is a clear and present danger to Americans' best interests, as Bolton makes very, very clear!
So, what to do now? Here's what should be done, among other priorities:
Congressional leaders, and Joe Biden, should get public commitments now from top military leaders that in no circumstances will they introduce force into the 2020 election process. Biden should also prepare fully now for court battles likely to arise.
Once elected in November, with a likely Democratic Congress, Biden and Congress should move promptly to double the number of Federal judges at all levels, introducing mandatory retirement at 70 years old for new judges. Federal courts are understaffed and take too long to offer justice. Congress has changed before the number of Federal judges, including on the US Supreme Court, and should do so again once and for all!
A US Supreme Court with at least 17 Justices, and mandatory retirement for new judges, would reduce if not eliminate for good the pointless divisive battles every time a vacancy arises on the US Supreme Court.
Biden should begin the process to amend the Constitution to make it a felony punishable by a year in prison to fail to respond fully and promptly to Congressional committee subpoenas issued in impeachment proceedings. Those materially violating these subpoenas should not have recourse to Federal courts. The Founders intended the impeachment process to be a political matter, not a judicial one. The decision of a duly elected majority of a Congressional committee is sufficient protection against Congressional abuse of impeachment subpoenas.
Biden should also begin the process to amend the Constitution (A) to reverse the Citizen United decision that has permitted unlimited corporate political contributions, (B) to provide for national voting procedures in Federal elections, including a uniform primary date, and (C) to legalize abortion.
Trump has weakened the US. Joe Biden and a new Congress must begin to reinvigorate the US.