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Trump, Bolton trade barbs as White house seeks to block book

The Department of Justice has called for an emergency injunction to block the sale of a book critical of President Donald Trump penned by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, citing national security concerns. 

The book, titled The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, is set to be released on Tuesday by Simon & Schuster. It has been the subject of a lengthy battle between Bolton and the White House.

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Democratic legislators on Thursday said they were considering next steps, including a subpoena, on how to respond to allegations by Bolton that Trump sought foreign help to get re-elected.

The Justice Department sued on Tuesday in an effort to delay publication of the book, claiming it still contained highly-classified information and that a required review by the National Security Council had not been concluded.

According to the filing, a career official determined no classified material remained in April, but national security adviser Robert O’Brien initiated a secondary review that deemed additional information to be classified.

The book contains serious allegations, including that Trump “pleaded” with China’s Xi Jinping during a 2019 summit to help his re-election prospects as part of a broader tendency of Trump being driven by political calculations when making national security decisions.

The White House worked furiously to block the book, with the Department of Justice asking a federal court for an emergency temporary restraining order on Wednesday against its release. It asked a judge to hold a ruling on Friday.

Bolton’s allegations that Trump solicited Chinese help for his re-election effort carried echoes of Trump’s attempt to get political help from Ukraine, which led to his impeachment.

Trump Xi 2019

President Donald Trump meets China’s President Xi Jinping at the start of their bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders’ summit in Osaka [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

“I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” Bolton wrote.

The 577-page book paints an unvarnished portrait of Trump and his administration, amounting to the most vivid, first-person account yet of how Trump conducts himself in office.

In an interview with US broadcaster ABC News aired on Thursday Bolton said the president “not fit for office” and lacked “the competence to carry out the job”.

“He was so focused on the re-election that longer-term considerations fell by the wayside,” he said. “There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s re-election” Bolton said.

‘Innumerable’ concerns

Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser for a 17-month period, called Trump’s attempt to shift the June 2019 conversation with Xi to the US election a stunning move and wrote that it was among innumerable conversations he found concerning. He added that Congress should have expanded the scope of its impeachment inquiry to these other incidents.

Bolton wrote that Trump told Xi Democrats were hostile towards China during a 2019 meeting in Osaka, Japan. 

“He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Bolton said. “He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”

‘Stunningly uninformed’

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was present at the meeting, told Congress he never heard Trump pleading with Xi to buy more agriculture products to ensure he would win re-election.

Deeply critical of the president and much of his senior team, Bolton wrote that because staff had served him so poorly, Trump “saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government”.

He added that while he was at the White House, Trump typically had only two intelligence briefings a week “and in most of those, he spoke at greater length than the briefers, often on matters completely unrelated to the subjects at hand”.

Trump was asked about the book on Wednesday on the US Fox News Channel’s Hannity, and the president accused Bolton of violating the law by releasing the book. “He broke the law. Very simple. I mean, as much as it’s going to be broken,” Trump said. “It’s highly classified information, and he did not have approval'”

He tweeted early on Thursday that the book “is made up of lies & fake stories” by a “disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war”.

Wacko John Bolton’s “exceedingly tedious”(New York Times) book is made up of lies & fake stories. Said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him. A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. Never had a clue, was ostracized & happily dumped. What a dope!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2020

The book includes embarrassing claims that Trump thought Finland was part of Russia, did not know that the United Kingdom was a nuclear power and called reporters “scumbags” who should be “executed”.

‘In my view’

Bolton wrote that he would print Trump’s exact words, “but the government’s pre-publication review process has decided otherwise”.

He also wrote that he was asked to add phrases like, “in my view”, to make it clear he was expressing his opinion instead of relying on sensitive information. In others, he was asked to describe things more generally. He was asked to remove quotation marks nearly every time he recounts conversation between Trump and foreign leaders and himself and foreign leaders.

John Bolton

President Donald Trump listens as his national security adviser John Bolton speaks during a presidential memorandum signing for the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

The White House’s contention that so much of the book was classified appeared to be a tacit admission that many of Bolton’s allegations were accurate – as inaccurate information could not be classified.

Bolton wrote that he raised some of his concerns about Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders with Attorney General William Barr and flagged similar worries with White House attorneys and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” he wrote.

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