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Trump rips into John Bolton, denies he resigned

Bolton with his bag packed, on a trip to Nashville last May. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump addressed the reasons behind John Bolton's removal as national security adviser on Wednesday, telling reporters that Bolton "made some very big mistakes" and was "not getting along with people in the administration."

The backdrop: The tumultuous working relationship between Trump and his ultra-hawkish adviser ended suddenly on Tuesday. Trump tweeted that he'd fired Bolton, who then claimed to have resigned. Trump insisted that it was his decision to terminate Bolton, but said his former top aide "can do whatever he can do to spin it his way."

"He sat right in that chair and I told him, 'John ... you're not getting along with people and a lot of us, including me, disagree with some of your tactics and some of your ideas and I wish you well but I want you to submit your resignation.' And he did that."
— Trump today in the Oval Office

What he's saying: Trump repeatedly condemned Bolton's suggestion (more than a year ago) that the U.S. pursue the "Libya model" for the denuclearization of North Korea.

  • North Korea reacted furiously at the time. That's unsurprising, given Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising a decade after ending his nuclear program.
  • "What a disaster using that to make a deal with North Korea," Trump said. "I don't blame Kim Jong-un. ... He wanted nothing to do with John Bolton."

Trump also said he disagreed with Bolton's views on Venezuela.

  • Bolton repeatedly predicted President Nicolás Maduro's imminent overthrow after the U.S. backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Trump reportedly grew impatient when rhetoric was not matched with results and said today that Bolton had been "way out of line."

The big picture: Trump seemed to bristle at the idea that Bolton was the muscle behind his foreign policy, referring to him dismissively as "Mr. Tough Guy" and noting his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

  • Trump claimed a number of qualified candidates had expressed interest in the job and that an announcement would come next week. Earlier Wednesday, Axios reported a list of candidates that Trump is considering.

The bottom line: Trump said he hoped he and Bolton "left in good stead," but added: "Maybe we have and maybe we haven't."

Go deeper: Bolton's chaotic White House departure