Jun 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bolton on a Trump second term: Be afraid

John Bolton giving a speech
Bolton speaks at Duke University Feb. 17. Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

Inviting biological weapons attacks, withdrawing the U.S. from NATO and criminalizing political dissent: John Bolton tells Axios these are some of his fears about what could come to pass if President Trump is elected to a second term.

Driving the news: In an interview on Monday at his office in downtown D.C., timed to the release of his book "The Room Where It Happened," Trump's former national security adviser elaborated on hypothetical scenarios that keep him up at night when he considers the implications if Trump wins re-election.

  • Biological weapons: "If Trump's response to the pandemic has proven [anything] to anybody who's contemplating acquiring a biological weapons capability, it's that he's not able to respond to it in a systematic fashion," Bolton said. "Whatever the source of this pandemic, it's a roadmap for the people who do control biological weapons, or aspire to biological weapons, what can happen."
  • Withdrawal from NATO: Bolton says it's "highly questionable" that Trump would stick with NATO through a second term. "I'm not averse to moving 9,000, 10,000 troops out of Germany if we're going to move them to Poland or someplace else," Bolton added. "But that's not why he's bringing those troops home. My first reaction [to Trump's German troop drawdown announcement] was this is the beginning of the end."
  • Alliances: "I think the alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, are question marks at this point," Bolton said. "If you believe the world's far away, then why have these alliances at all?"
  • Corruption: "I'm not talking about financial interests — that's really the lowest level of concern," Bolton said. "It's the corruption of the judicial process, the use of the power of the federal government against people who disagree with him. Protecting people who do support him who may have run afoul of some other legal or regulatory structures. It's a degradation of the strictures of the Constitution that become harder and harder to fix."

The other side: White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah responded: “John Bolton doesn’t have a single foreign policy or national defense achievement."

  • "Under President Trump’s leadership, our allies are contributing more than $130 billion more to NATO, we’ve taken two of the world’s foremost terrorists off the battlefield, restored deterrence with Iran, and we are on pace to bring American soldiers home from the longest war in American history.”
  • Trump, in a Friday interview with Axios, described Bolton as a "nut-job" who may be the "dumbest human being on earth" for persistently supporting the Iraq War.

Why it matters: Never before in American history has a former White House national security adviser made such an assessment of the president they served less than a year ago — while that president remains in office.

  • In our interview, Bolton also hit back at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called him a "traitor" for writing about sensitive national security matters in his book.
  • Bolton responded: "I think there were many occasions with respect to North Korea and Iran and Afghanistan, particularly North Korea and Afghanistan, where Pompeo simply gave up on trying to provide good advice."
  • "I cannot understand why he would allow himself to be put in that role," Bolton added of Pompeo. "But he clearly did. And he's proud of it. That's his judgment and he'll have to live with it."

The other side: Two subjects Bolton didn't wish to discuss were his evolving legal situation and his note-taking practices to construct his book.

  • Paul Nakasone, the director of the National Security Agency, filed a damning affidavit late last week in DC's district court.
  • Under penalty of perjury, Nakasone said that he had found classified information in Bolton's manuscript and that "compromise of this information could result in the permanent loss" of a valuable intelligence source and "reasonably could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."
  • Bolton would not comment on any aspect of his legal situation.

Between the lines: I pressed Bolton on how he can vouch for the veracity of his stories given he now says he destroyed all his government notebooks. He was cagey about his methods.

  • "I took lots of notes. The notes, as I said in my exit interview from the White House, were destroyed during the course of my tenure there," he replied.
  • But he would not say if or how he wrote a hyper-detailed, nearly 500-page book with detailed dialogue and scenes working entirely from memory. "I'm not going to get into the description of how I wrote it or anything like that," Bolton replied.

The bottom line: "I wrote the best description that I could, and I’m willing to test it across the whole range of the almost 500 pages in the book," Bolton added. "I've been a litigator for many years. I know witnesses who sit in the same meeting and come away with different recollections. I'm perfectly prepared to deal with that."

  • "I am very comfortable that what I wrote in the book is an accurate depiction of what happened. And I think it will stand the test of time."
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