For much of the last 20 years, John Bolton was a conservative poster child, a Republican hawk whose worldview helped shape the GOP establishment’s approach to dicey foreign policy questions.
Now, as the former national security adviser prepares to dish on his days in the White House, some of his old friends and colleagues are turning on him — and others are nervously wondering what he may be poised to reveal.
Leaked passages from the manuscript of Bolton’s soon-to-be published book are roiling Washington, including the revelation that he says Trump told him he was conditioning the release of military aid to Ukraine on whether its government would help investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son.
Bolton’s roughly 17-month tenure in as national security adviser brought him rare access to the inner workings of the West Wing and the Cabinet, particularly on matters of global affairs. He was known to take copious notes on yellow legal pads.
After this week’s early leaks about the book, White House aides and allies are privately expressing concern about what more Bolton might reveal that the president and others in his orbit would find embarrassing.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., gave voice to GOP pique about Bolton’s revelations in an interview with Fox News. He said Bolton had long argued for expansive executive powers to protect a president’s conversations with his advisers but “now he’s going to argue that no, no, no, now that I have a book deal for a couple of million bucks, that it’s OK for me to say and spill the beans on everything the president’s said to me privately.”
Less than two years ago, Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and Trump impeachment team manager, praised the president for bringing Bolton into the White House, saying the president “could not have made a better pick” for the key role in the administration. Bolton, who served as United Nations ambassador in the George W. Bush administration, was a fierce advocate for the 2003 war in Iraq and has pushed for military action in Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.
But this week, following news reports that Bolton made damaging charges about Trump in the forthcoming book, Meadows questioned why Democrats were treating Bolton as some sort of potential “super witness” to make their case in the impeachment trial.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, earlier this month said Bolton’s testimony “could well be beneficial” to Trump in the impeachment trial. But after this week’s leaks about the book, Cornyn questioned whether there would be much value in hearing from Bolton, saying “it’s nothing different than what we’ve already heard.”
Democrats are pressing for Bolton to be called as a witness in the Senate trial, but need the support of at least four Republican senators to make it a reality. Only a few GOP senators have suggested they may be interested.
Fred Fleitz, a former chief of staff on Trump’s National Security Council and a friend of Bolton, wrote in an opinion article for Fox’s website that Bolton’s decision to write a “tell-all” was “crushing” and urged him to withdraw it from his publisher immediately.
“I don’t understand the need for a former National Security Adviser to publish a tell-all book critical of a president he served, especially during a presidential reelection campaign that will determine the fate of the country,” Fleitz wrote. “There will be a time for Bolton to speak out without appearing to try to tip a presidential election.”