When former National Security Advisor John Bolton voted for Donald Trump in 2016 he decided to roll the dice on an unknown instead of backing a Democrat. Amb. Bolton made a similar gamble when he joined the Trump administration thinking he could help guide what he knew was a problematic approach to foreign policy. His new book “The Room Where It Happened” is out now. #StephenAtHome #JohnBolton #BoltonBook
>> WHAT– WHAT– WHAT I THOUGHT IN 2016 WAS WE AT LEAST HAVE TO
TRY IT OUT.
AND SO I VOTE FOR TRUMP.
HAVING EXPERIENCED 17 MONTHS OF WORKING WITH HIM, I CAN’T IN
GOOD CONSCIENCE DO THAT AGAIN.
AND THAT’S WHY I’M NOT GOING TO VOTE FOR HIM, AND I’M NOT GOING
TO VOTE FORED BY GREN.
>> Stephen: I GUESS WHAT’S EXASPERATING IS THERE IS
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING DONALD TRUMP HAS DONE THAT IS SURPRISING TO
MY RULE IS EVERYTHING THAT YOU THINK ABOUT DONALD TRUMP IS
BECAUSE HE’S NOT DEEP ENOUGH TO GET YOUR SOCKS WET IN.
HE’S INCREDIBLY READABLE.
THAT’S WHY WHEN HE RAN CASINOS, THE HOUSE LOST.
THERE’S NOTHING TO LEARN ABOUT HIM.
THAT’S WHY HE’S ESSENTIALLY A BORING PERSON.
HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW BEFOREHAND THAT HE WAS JUST HOLLOW?
>> BECAUSE I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT WAS THAT BAD.
AND I KNOW OTHER PEOPLE SAY THEY SAW IT FROM THE BEGINNING —
>> Stephen: BUT YOU’RE AN INTERNATIONAL NEGOTIATOR.
HOW COULD YOU BE NAIVE?
YOU’VE DEALT WITH THE WORST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.
>> YOU’VE REALLY INSULTED ME NOW BY CALLING ME NAIVE.
LOOK, I THOUGHT IT WAS POSSIBLE TO WORK WITH SOMEBODY.
I THOUGHT SURELY THEY WOULD WANT TO LEARN ABOUT THE COMPLEXITYES
OF ARMS CONTROL NEGOTIATIONS AND THAT SORT OF THING.
AND AS I DETAIL IN THE BOOK, THAT TURNED OUT NOT TO BE TRUE.
>> Stephen: AMBASSADOR, WE HAVE TO TAKE A QUICK BREAK, BUT
President Trump doesn’t want John Bolton to publish his book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” It was supposed to come out in March, but Simon & Schuster was twice forced to push the publication date back more than three months, to June 23, while the manuscript underwent “prepublication review” by the National Security Council (NSC).
The purpose of prepublication review is to protect national-security secrets. Regulations disallow its use “to prevent embarrassment to a person.” Yet that’s how the White House has used the process in this case. The effort violates those regulations and Mr. Bolton’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.
Mr. Bolton, who was Mr. Trump’s national security adviser for 18 months, took care as he wrote to avoid revealing anything that might be classified. He instructed me, as his lawyer, to submit the manuscript to Ellen Knight, the NSC’s senior director for prepublication review of materials written by NSC personnel.
I sent Ms. Knight the manuscript on Dec. 30, days after the House had impeached the president and amid speculation that the Senate would subpoena Mr. Bolton to testify. Because the manuscript includes a chapter about Ukraine—the subject of the impeachment—the risk that Mr. Trump and his aides would commandeer prepublication review was obvious.
I therefore emphasized to Ms. Knight that in submitting his manuscript Mr. Bolton was relying on the regulations expressly limiting prepublication review to career government officials regularly charged with that responsibility. Those rules prohibit officials from classifying information “to prevent embarrassment to a person” or to “prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of national security.” Ms. Knight assured me the review’s sole purpose would be to prevent the disclosure of classified information.
What followed was perhaps the most extensive and intensive prepublication review in NSC history. Mr. Bolton and Ms. Knight spent almost four months going through the nearly 500-page manuscript four times, often line by line.
Round one began on Jan. 23, as the impeachment trial was under way. Ms. Knight wrote to me that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript contained “significant amounts of classified information” and that she would provide “detailed guidance regarding next steps that should enable you to revise the manuscript and move forward as expeditiously as possible.”
A few days later Vanity Fair reported that “the president is out for revenge against his adversaries.” The article stated that the president “has an enemies list,” that “Bolton is at the top of the list,” and that the “campaign against Bolton” included Ms. Knight’s Jan. 23 letter. It also reported that the president “wants Bolton to be criminally investigated.”
On Feb. 7, two days after Mr. Trump’s acquittal, Ms. Knight suggested that “to further the iterative process, it would be most efficient for me to meet with [Mr. Bolton] to review each instance of classified information in detail.” Meantime, the White House had acknowledged that NSC staff briefed White House counsel Pat Cipollone about the book while Mr. Cipollone was leading the impeachment defense.
Mr. Bolton and Ms. Knight met on Feb. 21. That same day the Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump had “directly weighed in” on the prepublication review, “telling his staff that he views John Bolton as ‘a traitor,’ that everything he uttered to the departed aide about national security is classified and that he will seek to block the book’s publication.” The Post also reported that Mr. Trump vowed to a group of television news anchors: “We’re going to try and block publication of the book.” The president added, “After I leave office, he can do this.”
Mr. Bolton’s meeting with Ms. Knight lasted four hours. She later wrote that they “reviewed the preliminary results of three chapters in the draft manuscript in detail.” Mr. Bolton took five pages of handwritten notes as they discussed her specific concerns. Three days later, Ms. Knight wrote that the meeting had been “most productive,” and that “it would be most helpful to the process if we hold one or more following meetings . . . to discuss the remaining portions of the draft manuscript.”
They met three more times in the first week of March for more than 10 additional hours. They meticulously reviewed each of Ms. Knight’s concerns in the remaining 11 chapters, producing 34 more pages of handwritten notes. Following her guidance and his own notes, Mr. Bolton revised his manuscript. By March 9 he had resubmitted all 14 chapters to begin the second round of the iterative review.
Mr. Bolton didn’t hear from Ms. Knight again until Friday, March 27, when she wrote, “I appreciate your efforts to address the classification concerns in the latest draft version you submitted. Many of the changes are satisfactory. However, additional edits are required to ensure the protection of national security information. To assist in making the additional required changes, I will provide a list of required edits and language substitutions to guide you in this next stage of revising the draft.”
Her list amounted to 17 single-spaced pages of typed comments, questions, suggestions of specific alternative language, and citations to publicly available source material. Mr. Bolton worked through the weekend and responded in full on March 30, accepting the vast majority of Ms. Knight’s suggestions and proposing alternative solutions to others.
The third round of the review occurred in an April 13 phone conversation when Ms. Knight provided a much shorter list of remaining concerns after reviewing Mr. Bolton’s March 30 revisions. They agreed on these language changes, which were delivered to Ms. Knight on April 14.
During the April 13 call, Ms. Knight said she would review the full manuscript one more time, to recheck resolved issues and ensure she hadn’t overlooked anything. That final review resulted in two further phone calls, on April 21 and 24, in which she conveyed her final round of edits. Mr. Bolton promptly responded with the revisions by April 24. On April 27, after clarifying one previously discussed edit, Ms. Knight confirmed “that’s the last edit I really have to provide for you.” The lengthy, laborious process was over.
Yet when Mr. Bolton asked when he would receive the letter confirming the book was cleared, Ms. Knight cryptically replied that her “interaction” with unnamed others in the White House about the book had “been very delicate” and that there were “some internal process considerations to work through.” She thought the letter might be ready that afternoon but would “know more by the end of the day.” Six weeks later, Mr. Bolton has yet to receive a clearance letter. He hasn’t heard from Ms. Knight since May 7.
We did hear from the White House on June 8. John A. Eisenberg, the president’s deputy counsel for national security, asserted in a letter that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript contains classified information and that publishing the book would violate his nondisclosure agreements.
This last-minute allegation came after an intensive four-month review, after weeks of silence from the White House, and—as Mr. Eisenberg admits in his letter—after press reports alerted the White House that Mr. Bolton’s book would be published on June 23. This is a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import. This attempt will not succeed, and Mr. Bolton’s book will be published June 23.
The president was acquitted by the Senate, but the American people are smarter.
The vote to acquit President Trump was a dark day for the Senate. Uninterested in hearing from witnesses (and likely scared by what they would say), uncritical of outrageous legal arguments made by the president’s lawyers and apparently unconcerned about the damage Mr. Trump has done to the integrity of America’s elections, a majority of senators insisted on looking the other way and letting him off the hook for a classic impeachable offense: abuse of public office for private gain.
But while the Senate got it wrong, the American people learned what’s right. This impeachment was about much more than the final vote of 100 senators. It was a process, and that process yielded a public education of extraordinary value. While the Senate may emerge from the process weakened, the American people, on the whole, emerge from it strengthened by a sharpened sense of what’s right and what’s wrong for an American president; of what it means for a political party to show moral courage; of what it looks like when dedicated public servants speak truth no matter the consequences; and of the importance of whistle-blowers for ensuring accountability.
The past few months have shown Americans a president who abused the public trust for his personal benefit. Before this process, we suspect, few Americans had dwelled on the question of when it crosses the line for a president to exploit for private political gain the tools of national power placed in his or her hands.
But impeachment has forced Americans to confront it — a question, it turns out, that was central to the framers’ decision to include impeachment in our Constitution. And Americans overwhelmingly reject what Mr. Trump did, with 75 percent saying in December that his Ukraine extortion scheme was wrong (a view that even some Republican senators have endorsed). That’s huge: For all that divides Americans today, this is a dominant consensus on what it means to abuse public office and distort American democracy.
Americans have also seen that, despite the intense pessimism and even disillusionment that many feel about politics, a political party still can show moral courage — regardless of the political costs. The Democrats were told constantly that impeachment would hurt them in November. Mr. Trump himself has boasted that it will, and what’s more he has relished the chance to claim exoneration and to take a victory lap at the same time as Democratic hopefuls began duking it out in earnest in the primaries. The Democrats knew all this, and what’s more, they knew they faced an uphill battle: That’s what the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds Senate majority to convict imposes from the beginning.
But they still did the right thing. They called out impropriety so glaring that it could not be suffered in silence. And they reminded all of us that a political party can pursue what’s right over what’s expedient — and so can a lone politician, as Senator Mitt Romney showed.
Americans saw on vivid display another form of courage: the incredible bravery of public servants who testified before the House of Representatives, the nation and the world — people like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill. They did so despite the gag orders issued by Mr. Trump to disobey Congress. They did so knowing they’d face death threats. They did so not knowing whether their testimony would yield the president’s impeachment or removal. And they spoke up because they believed in truth as an end in itself.
That’s a reminder, in our disinformation-fueled times, that candor is a value we must recover. And it’s a lesson for the American people that those who serve our government by working long hours for little pay and even less glory aren’t the “deep state” that Mr. Trump denounces but, instead, patriots.
Americans also received a lesson in the critical importance of whistle-blowers in holding our government to account. The role of whistle-blowers is as old as the government itself, dating back to the Continental Congress. But never has their necessity been put on display as clearly as when a courageous whistle-blower filed the complaint that, ultimately, led to the exposure of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine extortion bid.
In this, Americans can see why the United States has been protecting whistle-blowers by law since 1777: Through proper channels, they can provide internal accountability that other actors — like Congress and the press — often can’t achieve, especially when an administration like the current one so relentlessly tries to hide its misdeeds and resist oversight.
Remember also that the investigation into Mr. Trump’s Ukraine extortion scandal isn’t over. Trump’s own lawyers insisted that key witnesses like John Bolton should testify in the House, rather than in the Senate. And Mr. Trump’s entire defense was that the people should decide in November. So be it. The House has a continuing duty, as part of its oversight and legislative functions, to get to the bottom of what happened so that November will be a fully informed choice. Recall that it was Mr. Trump’s central defense that there weren’t witnesses who testified that they saw, firsthand, his extortion of Ukraine. The House now has an opportunity to do so. And it must, according to Mr. Trump’s own arguments, so that the November election can serve the function that Mr. Trump, in warding off impeachment, claimed it should.
President Trump may remain in office for now, but he now serves an American people that’s stronger for the journey our country has just taken. It’s a country energized by a sense of when a president has abused his office; reminded of how a political party can choose morality over political expediency; enlightened by the display of candor from public servants; and educated about the crucial nature of whistle-blowers and thus of the legal protections afforded them.
Regrettably, one political party has resisted acknowledging, let alone embracing, these lessons. That’s a danger to the Republic. And it’s one that Americans now need to address through their public advocacy, their community engagement — and, ultimately, at the voting booth in November.