Former national security adviser John Bolton said Monday that if people thought about resigning “every time something objectionable happened” in the Trump White House, “you’d last about three or four hours in the job.”
In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, Bolton said he considered resigning several times during the last few months of his tenure as national security adviser. President Donald Trump said he ousted Bolton in September 2019 because he “disagreed strongly” with many of Bolton’s decisions. But Bolton pushed back on Trump’s statement, saying at the time, “Let’s be clear, I resigned.”
“I used to say I was the national security adviser, not the national security decision-maker,” Bolton told Business Insider on Monday. “Anybody who goes into an administration and has the honor to be there at a senior level knows that there are a lot of issues that their views are not going to prevail, and you have to be willing to accept that.”
“If you thought about resigning each and every time something objectionable happened, you’d last about three or four hours in the job,” he added. “So it’s part of the price of having … the honor of presenting your points of view is you’re going to have to accept things that you find contrary to your beliefs. And you bare that as long as you can, and then you resign, which is what I did.”
In his new book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” Bolton chronicled multiple incidents which, according to him, showed how unprepared and unfit Trump was for the presidency. But he said the incident that shocked him most was Trump’s disastrous summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki during the summer of 2018.
At the time, Trump refused to condemn Russia for interfering in the 2016 election. He also contradicted the US intelligence community and said he didn’t “see any reason why” Russia would have meddled.
“I was sitting in the audience with Chief of Staff John Kelly, and we were both frozen to our chairs,” Bolton told Business Insider. “We couldn’t believe what we had heard. And we spent a good part of the flight on Air Force One back to Washington trying to explain to the president why he was getting such a negative reaction from the press back in Washington. The president didn’t seem to understand that people might be upset that he equated what Putin said with what our intelligence community said.”
Bolton on Trump’s suggestion to delay the November election, foreign interference, and who he’ll vote for
The former national security adviser also weighed in on Trump’s recent suggestion that the general election be postponed or delayed.
“It’s completely beyond any reasonable consideration to delay the election,” Bolton said. “It’s set by statute and the idea of changing it at the last minute, I just think no one in the Republican Party was prepared to accept outside of the White House staff, perhaps. And I found it very troubling that the president would even talk about it.”
Trump cannot unilaterally cancel or postpone the November 3 general election by executive order, under the parameters of a national emergency or disaster declaration, or even if he declared martial law. Congress also in 1845 set the date on which states must appoint their electors to the electoral college — which they do by holding elections — to be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Multiple top Republican lawmakers also forcefully rebuked Trump’s suggestion when he first floated it late last month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a WNKY TV anchor he believed the general election date is “set in stone” and that past elections have taken place during crises.
Bolton told Business Insider on Monday that “in a perfect world,” he would limit early voting, absentee voting, and voting by mail.
“I think there’s a central element of democratic theory that we have the opportunity as a nation to do one thing all together on one day, that we all show up at the polling place and vote,” he said.
In terms of absentee voting, Bolton said he doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with placing “really stringent requirements” to limit absentee voting.
“The idea that the pandemic is going to force us to go to massive balloting by mail worries me a great deal,” he said, adding that it could “simply continue even when the pandemic is gone.”
Bolton said he will vote for neither Trump nor former Vice President and 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the election. Instead, he said he will write in the name of a conservative Republican.
“I’m not going to vote for Biden for philosophical reasons, and I’m not going to vote for Trump for philosophical reasons and because he’s not competent,” Bolton said.
He added that he’s “thinking of names” of write-in candidates, but that he doesn’t “want to get anybody in trouble.”
“If I mentioned any names, there would be a two-minute Twitter rant by the president, and they don’t need that,” the former national security adviser joked.
On foreign election interference, Bolton said that “we don’t know” the extent to which China is prepared to meddle in the race. “We have more experience with Russia because of its efforts in 2016,” but “I do think China has a broader program to try and intervene in the overall political environment in the United States.”
He touted the administration’s decision while he was national security adviser to change the decision-making rules for the authorization of offensive cyber measures to deter foreign powers from meddling in the US electoral process. But he said that overall, there needs to be a “broader discussion” in the US on the topic.
Bolton says he would give Trump an ‘F’ on his coronavirus response
The former national security adviser also weighed in on the US’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday, more than 162,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than 5 million have been infected, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“It was a failure in the Oval Office” to mount a swift and strong response, Bolton said. The US intelligence community warned at least a dozen times of an impending pandemic before the disease gained a foothold in the US. Officials on the National Security Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies were also raising red flags.
“But the president didn’t want to hear it,” Bolton said. “He didn’t want to hear bad news about his friend Xi Jinping, he didn’t want to hear about the Chinese cover-up about what was actually happening with the virus in China,” or anything that might hamper China’s ability to adhere to the trade deal Trump signed last year.
Most importantly, Bolton said, Trump “didn’t want to hear that this disease could be so threatening that it could impair the US economy significantly and therefore his ticket to reelection.”
Asked how he would grade Trump’s pandemic response, Bolton said he would give his former boss an F.
“Even today, we do not have a comprehensive strategy, we don’t have clear objectives, we’re not really on top of this, and I think that’s fairly typical of the way Trump handles most aspects of, certainly, the national security field,” Bolton said.
Overall, he said Trump “ranks at the bottom” of all US presidents.
“History will show he’ll be right down there with James Buchanan and others of that ilk because he really, I don’t think, to this day fully understands the magnitude of his responsibilities as president, and I don’t think that he brings to the office the kind of attention and care and prudence that I think are required in a good president,” Bolton said.
Bolton added that when he first took on the role in Trump’s administration, he believed the office would “shape” Trump as it has other presidents.
“But I don’t think it affected him at all, and I think that we’re the worse off for it,” he said.
Grace Panetta contributed to this reporting.