For the first time since House managers asked that he be called as a witness in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, a call that Senate Republicans immediately shut down, former national security adviser John Bolton has given a public interview. And the information produced in this appearance isn’t something that should be shocking to most Americans: John Bolton is a jackass.
Bolton’s appearance on Monday at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, was technically to be a discussion of threats to national security. But, as might be expected, most of the questions he was asked concerned Bolton’s time in the Trump White House and the issues that led to Donald Trump’s impeachment. Bolton was given multiple opportunities to speak about Trump’s actions involving Ukraine, or what he knew about the scheme against Joe Biden, or how Trump’s political hit squads smeared and removed the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. And through it all, Bolton had one mustache-twirling response: Buy my book.
That Bolton’s manuscript continues to be held by the White House on claims that it includes highly classified information is itself news. And it’s an issue of genuine concern. Of all the mistakes that Bolton might make, mishandling classified information seems highly unlikely. That the pages have been parked somewhere in a White House sub-basement for this long without even a suggestion as to the exact objections to releasing it is a pretty good indicator that the holdup has nothing to do with Bolton inadvertently revealing something critical to national defense, and everything to do with his being critical of Trump. On that point, what’s happening with Bolton demands not just sympathy, but also attention and demands for more information.
As CNN reports, Bolton talked repeatedly about the “censorship” being applied to his book, about his desire to get events and statements before the public, and about concerns that history be accurately recorded.
That’s all fine. But it’s the way Bolton responded to any factual questions that went instantly beyond off-putting and straight into infuriating. The response to any attempt to solicit information from Bolton or to get him to confirm any item that came up in the House hearings or Senate trial of Trump was never anything more than some variation on “Wait for the book.” The evening was far more a promotion for a book no one can buy than it was a musing on national security.
The highlight in a frustrating list of frustrations may have come when Bolton was asked whether he considered Trump’s July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “perfect,” as Trump has so often called it. “You’ll love Chapter 14,” said Bolton. It went that way throughout the evening.
Bolton did make broad statements on some topics, such as when he said that he saw from the beginning that Trump’s policies toward North Korea were going to fail. On his signature issue of Iran, Bolton predictably felt that Trump had not applied enough “pressure.” He didn’t quite shout, “Bomb, bomb, bomb” … he only implied it.
But much of the interview devolved into an ouroboros that went from how terrible it was that Bolton’s book was being held to how much he wanted everyone to have access to that sweet, sweet history that’s … in the book. Of course, that history was also in Bolton’s head, and he could have relayed the critical issues to the American public at any moment by just opening his mustache prop and explaining what he knew. Only then, who would buy the book?
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has the ability not just to declassify anything he wants, but also to slap a top-secret classification on anything, up to and including the contents of his taco salad. Whether or not Bolton’s book ever appears, or appears only after adjustments to explain that Trump is the bestest, smartest, handsomest scratch-golfing genius ever, remains an open question.
Bolton has another interview to give on his tour to promote a book that might never come out. Don’t count on it being any more informative.