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John Bolton accuses Donald Trump of "childish" behavior

"Look, in terms of the comment, I just think they're childish, and I think they diminish the office of the presidency. I'm really not going to respond to them. I think the president's decision-making in many respects is motivated more by political self-interest than anything else," said John Bolton, replying to Trump's comments during a Fox News town hall on Thursday.

Published June 27,2020

Over 17 months at the White House as national security adviser, John Bolton says he never came across evidence that President Donald Trump had been personally compromised by a foreign power, financially or otherwise.

But in an interview with McClatchy on Friday, Bolton -- promoting his White House memoir, "The Room Where it Happened" -- described what he saw as an even worse scenario.

"I have no evidence of financial compromise or personal compromise _ what the Russians in Soviet days used to call kompromat," Bolton said in the phone interview. "I don't know of anything like that. I just think it's a mistake in the way he views the world, which is actually more serious, I think."

That more serious scenario, according to Bolton, is a philosophically rudderless president enamored by authoritarian leaders.

It is a presidential portrait outlined in Bolton's book that has angered Trump, whose administration tried to block its publication and is now suing him for its proceeds.

In response to Trump's comment that Bolton wanted to "drop bombs on everybody," Bolton accused the president of "childish" behavior below the dignity of his office.

"Look, in terms of the comment, I just think they're childish, and I think they diminish the office of the presidency," said Bolton, replying to Trump's comments during a Fox News town hall on Thursday. "I'm really not going to respond to them. I think the president's decision-making in many respects is motivated more by political self-interest than anything else."

In the McClatchy interview, the ex-adviser to Trump described a chaotic White House in which a president, driven solely by his desire for reelection, would undermine core U.S. foreign policy tenets by making off-the-cuff statements he did not run by his advisers.

"And part of the problem the administration has is that the president doesn't think deeply enough about the implications and consequences of the decisions he takes. And we don't pursue long-term, coherent strategy," Bolton said. "So whether it's the use of force or much of anything else, I don't think there's adequate consideration."

One such incident occurred in June 2018 after Trump's first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. As the president traveled back to the White House, he asserted in an early-morning tweet that "there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

"I was appalled, because it was so manifestly not true. And I think it was the kind of tweet that knowledgeable Americans and knowledgeable foreigners knew to be an example of just not fundamentally understanding what all this was about," Bolton told McClatchy.

Bolton was not with Trump at the time of the tweet that contradicted U.S. policy on complete nuclear dismantlement.

"I'm not sure if I'd been around, he wouldn't have tweeted it anyway," Bolton said. "You know, at some point, you become inured to these kinds of tweets. You can't pull them back. You just have to hope as time goes on, and you can discuss these questions with Trump, that you can explain the fact that North Korea still is a nuclear threat. But it was disturbing. There's no getting around it."

Bolton resigned or was fired by Trump, depending on who is telling the story, in September 2019.

Bolton said that at no time did he have conversations or hear whispers about the Cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

In September 2018, during Bolton's time at the White House, an anonymous senior administration official wrote that conversations about Trump's basic fitness for office had occurred at the Cabinet level, raising discussion about the constitutional provision.

"Certainly not during my tenure," Bolton told McClatchy when asked if it was true that Cabinet members had quietly considered invoking the amendment. "In terms of any sort of remaining evidence that may have happened, I didn't see anything like that, I didn't hear anything other than the stories that appeared in the papers. So I don't have any evidence that it ever actually happened. It certainly was never discussed in my presence."

Bolton said that he was also unaware of a potential Chinese election meddling scheme like the one that Trump described in vivid detail at the Thursday evening town hall that was broadcast by Fox News.

Trump suggested that the Chinese government could "print millions of ballots using the exact same paper, using the exact same machines" as the U.S. government "and then hand them in" in order to disrupt the November presidential election.

"And then, all of a sudden _ it's the biggest risk we have: the mail-in ballot," Trump speculated.

Bolton said Friday that while he was national security adviser he briefed Trump on potential election threats.

But he said of Trump's mail-in voting theory, "I have not heard that before, I must say."

Attempts to influence elections and public opinion from both China and Russia were discussed publicly by the administration at the time of the 2018 midterm elections, including in an October 2018 speech that Vice President Mike Pence delivered at a Washington, D.C., think tank.

"And one of the troubling things about the Chinese efforts was that they did go beyond just hacking or meddling in the election," Bolton said on Friday. "And I think this is a very serious subject. So if they could affect the ballot process, you know, that could have real considerable consequences."

Bolton served three Republican presidents prior to Trump, never achieving his dream job as secretary of state after key senators signaled that they would block him if Trump nominated Bolton to the position.

He instead accepted a job in the administration that did not require Senate confirmation and served alongside current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The relationship with Pompeo is cast in Bolton's memoir as one that began on good terms but eventually soured.

He previously served as United Nations ambassador during the second term of former President George W. Bush and worked in a variety of positions during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Bolton did not rule out a future return to government service, however he indicated that he plans to pursue other career opportunities.

"It's an honor and a responsibility to try and serve the country, but I'm not looking for another job in government, that's for sure," he said.