Donald Trump compared his courtship of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to dating, and “always wanted to be the one who broke up with the girl first”, his former national security adviser John Bolton has claimed.
Bolton’s memoir, published on Tuesday, is potentially the most devastating account yet written by a member of a sitting president’s inner circle. The White House sought to halt publication of the book but a judge refused to block its release, saying it was too late for a restraining order.
Bolton was castigated by the judge for his treatment of classified material, and Trump has threatened to go after profits from the book while hinting at criminal prosecution.
But in the latest interview of his promotional tour, Bolton said the failed effort at North Korean denuclearisation was a major factor in resignation last September. He was asked by National Public Radio (NPR) about his frustrations ahead of an on-off-on summit with Kim in Singapore and how the thrice-married president likened it to his dating life.
“Well, he said that he always, back in the day, as they say, he always wanted to be the one who broke up with the girl first,” Bolton said. “He didn’t want the girl to break up with him. And he used that to describe whether he would cancel the summit with Kim Jong-un first or whether we would risk the North Koreans canceling it.
“And I thought it was an insight into the president, candidly given, that showed how he approached this. As opposed to looking at it from the perspective of what our ultimate strategic interest was, in my view, would have been better not to agree to the summit to begin with.”
Trump appears to have gone cold on Kim. Noting that last week North Korea blew up a liaison office set up to improve communications with the South, Bolton said “this entire two-year-long effort with North Korea ended in diplomatic failure. But that allowed the North Koreans the time that they need to continue to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems.”
After the historic first meeting in Singapore, Trump and Kim flattered each other’s egos despite US critics’ warnings that North Korea had more to gain from the exchange. Trump told a rally in West Virginia: “He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.” The Washington Post observed: “Trump gloats about the half-dozen or so letters Kim has written him as if he were a smitten teenager in possession of valentines from a crush.”
When NPR interviewer Steve Inskeep asked if the president had “a kind of romantic approach to numerous dictators”, Bolton agreed: “Yeah, I think that’s an accurate description.”
Bolton is the latest ex-Trump aide to raise grave questions about the president’s fitness for office. The Room Where It Happened has initiated rare unity in Washington, with the author condemned by Republicans for divulging the president’s private conversations and by Democrats for doing so in a $29.95 book rather than during the impeachment process.
Trump was impeached for his attempt to have Ukraine produce dirt on his political rivals. Bolton refused to testify in the House, then offered to do so in the Senate but was not called as Republicans secured a swift acquittal. Bolton discusses the Ukraine affair in his book.
“This really, in a sense, is a book about how not to be president,” he told NPR. “The decision making process was not coherent. It followed episodically and anecdotally on what the president thought. At any given time, decisions could be made and reversed and then reversed again in very rapid fashion. Decisions were made without ultimate objectives and strategies in mind.”
The former US ambassador to the United Nations who advocated for the Iraq war said he voted for Trump against Hillary Clinton in 2016 but having seen him up close for 17 months, cannot do so again.
“I’m planning to write in the name of a conservative Republican identity to be determined yet,” he said. “But I will not be voting for Donald Trump and I will not be voting for Joe Biden.”
The president and his allies have launched a counter-attack in an attempt to steal Bolton’s thunder, question his character and undermine his credibility.
On Monday the Axios website quoted an excerpt from a forthcoming book by former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Writing about Trump’s state visit to London last year, she claims Bolton “apparently felt too important” to travel with other US officials in a small bus to Winfield House, the US ambassador’s residence.
“Bolton was a classic case of a senior White House official drunk on power, who had forgotten that nobody elected him to anything,” Sanders says, in Speaking for Myself.
“Often Bolton acted like he was the president, pushing an agenda contrary to President Trump’s. When we finally arrived at the Winfield House, [then acting chief of staff] Mick Mulvaney, typically laid-back and not one to get caught up in titles or seniority, confronted Bolton and unleashed a full Irish explosion on him.
“‘Let’s face it, John. You’re a f–– self-righteous, self-centered son of a b––!’ … [It] was the culmination of months of Bolton thinking he was more important and could play by a different set of rules than the rest of the team … Bolton backed down and stormed off.”
In response, Axios quoted Sarah Tinsley, an adviser to Bolton, as saying all arrangements for such travel were handled by the Secret Service, without any input from Bolton.