The practice of top aides cashing in by disclosing details of their presidential bosses’ inadequacies while they are still in office has been a common Washington phenomenon for more than four decades.
Jim Fallows had no sooner stopped writing presidential speeches for Jimmy Carter than he reported the president was such a micromanager he personally assigned use of the White House tennis courts. Press Secretary Scott McClellan said President George W. Bush was not “open and forthright” in selling the 2003 invasion of Iraq. George Stephanopoulos groused that Bill Clinton often spurned his obviously superior advice.
The disclosures were often more trivial than substantive. But that hardly makes the practice less detestable when authors claim, like former national security adviser John Bolton, that their higher purpose is to enlighten the public on the dangers of reelecting a president so inadequate as Donald Trump.
“I don’t think he’s fit for office,” the former Trump adviser told ABC-TV’sMartha Raddatz, in discussing his new tell-all, “The Room Where It Happened.” “I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job.” Such statements confirm that Bolton’s desire to influence 2020 voters was one of his main goals in writing the memoir — along with cashing in.
“I think these are things the American people need to know about,” he added.
In a sense, Trump confirmed Bolton’s conclusion about his own unfitness by hiring someone whose views differed so much from his own positive attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the prospect for North Korean nuclear disarmament. An eventual rift was inevitable, and Bolton was known to take detailed notes and write about his government jobs.
What gives Bolton’s 592-page volume its essential credibility is that he provides anecdotal evidence that matches the earlier conclusions on Trump from such highly regarded former officials as Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s second White House chief of staff
• Tillerson’s oft-quoted description that Trump is an “(expletive) moron” is validated by notations Trump thought that Finland was part of Russia and didn’t realize our closest global ally, the United Kingdom, is a nuclear power.
• Suggestions Trump puts his family’s reputation over the country’s comes in his willingness to float a false story justifying Saudi Arabia’s brutal murder of dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi to deflect attention from reports his daughter Ivanka used her private email account while a top White House aide, akin to the Hillary Clinton misdeed he condemned in 2016 as almost a mortal sin.
• Bolton confirms details of Trump’s “perfect” phone call with Ukraine’s president in which Trump threatened to withhold U.S. aid to pressure the Ukrainian leader to investigate Joe Biden. Bolton notes the president made an even more blatant plea for help for his 2020 reelection campaign from China’s Xi.
It’s part of a pattern. A bipartisan Senate committee report concluded Russia helped Trump in 2016. And Trump told ABC’s Stephanopoulos in 2019 “I think I’d take” campaign aid from a foreign government, likening it to domestic “oppo research.”
Bolton’s book and especially its timing have placed the veteran diplomatic official squarely in the political crossfire from both sides.
The Trump White House launched a belated legal action to squash publication on grounds Bolton was violating national security. But Bolton said the real reason was “He didn’t want the book to be published before the election.”
Meanwhile, Democrats groused about Bolton’s disinterest in testifying during last fall’s House’s impeachment hearings, which he readily could have done, while saying he would respect a Senate subpoena that was far less likely.
Bolton argues that House Democrats committed “impeachment malpractice” by not broadening their probe from Ukraine. But he conceded to Raddatz, “I think now this is actually a better time to tell the story. Because now the American people can look at it in the context of the most important political decision we make as a nation every four years.”
It’s unclear if the veteran GOP diplomat will pay any personal price for turning on his boss. That may depend on whether Trump wins in November.
While rejecting the administration’s effort to block publication, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Bolton “has gambled with the national security of the United States … (and) has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability.” Trump has threatened to prosecute Bolton, and he could lose his $2 million advance plus sales profits.
McClellan, the ex-Bush press secretary, never held another fulltime Washington job and relied on consulting contracts and paid speeches in the years after writing “Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.” Since 2012, he has been vice president for communications at Seattle University, in Washington state.
Stephanopoulos, however, landed a lush television contract with ABC News. More than two decades later, it continues to pay him $14 million annually.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.