Former National Security Advisor John Bolton included a truly stunning allegation of misconduct by President Trump in his new book, which the ousted official promoted by excerpting in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Bolton accuses Trump of okaying Chinese President Xi’s construction of concentration camps during a G-20 dinner last June, and “pleading with Xi” to seal his reelection.
The severity of Bolton’s allegation is his own worst defense. There is only one reason he didn’t go public with it until now, and that’s to boost the book, and increase profits. It’s an outrageous scandal, not nearly as outrageous as Trump’s alleged comments, but outrageous enough that it raises immense questions about Bolton’s character.
The book is reportedly based on Bolton’s extensive personal notes from his time in the Trump White House. Here’s the relevant excerpt of his piece in the Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):
Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.
At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Bolton’s story is accurate. He certainly believes it to be true. The allegation that a sitting president okayed concentration camps and asked the leader of an enemy country to ensure his reelection is not information you keep private until launching a book. It is obviously so severe it warrants immediate action, and is of great news value to the public. We deserve to know if our president is lending his approval to Chinese concentration camps.
Even if Bolton felt it was most prudent to fight internally against Trump’s instincts during his time in the White House, this allegation is so serious he should have immediately revealed it after leaving. We know Bolton agrees it’s a serious allegation because he’s using it to sell books.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the Senate on Wednesday that Bolton’s facts were wrong. “Absolutely untrue. Never happened. I was there. I was at the meeting … nothing like that happened,” said Lighthizer, calling the allegation “Completely crazy.”
I have no idea who’s telling the truth. Bolton’s story may be outright false or simply misleading. Lighthizer may be wrong. Perhaps Bolton’s retelling is accurate, although I think it’s likely missing context.
If Bolton is right, this is a scandal of historic proportion, one that indicates (or underscores, depending on your position) our president is morally and practically unfit for office. Then again, if Bolton were right, you’d think he would be disturbed enough not to save the item for his book.
While the media is now championing Bolton as a virtuous whistleblower, one of two things must be true: Either Bolton is telling the truth and exploited a scandal for personal profit, or he’s misleading the public with an allegation of grave misconduct against the president. Whether it’s the first possibility or the second, Bolton is acting in very bad faith, and it reflects on his credibility.