Diplo­matic in­fight­ing drives Bolton’s ouster

Na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser clashed with Trump, Pom­peo on North Korea and Iran strate­gies

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Anne Gearan, John Wag­ner and Robert Costa

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced Tues­day that John Bolton was no longer his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, end­ing a tur­bu­lent ten­ure marked by widen­ing rifts be­tween an un­ortho­dox pres­i­dent seek­ing a for­eign pol­icy vic­tory and an iras­ci­ble for­eign pol­icy hawk who had been deeply skep­ti­cal of much of the pres­i­dent’s agenda.

Trump dis­closed the de­par­ture in a terse Twit­ter mes­sage, say­ing he would name a re­place­ment as early as next week. Po­ten­tial can­di­dates in­clude at least two con­ser­va­tive for­eign pol­icy com­men­ta­tors who ap­pear on Fox News, where Bolton’s fierce at­tacks on Democrats en­deared him to Trump nearly two years ago.

The ap­peal didn’t last, how­ever, as Bolton’s op­po­si­tion to el­e­ments of Trump’s ap­proach on North Korea, Iran and Afghanista­n, among other is­sues, put him at odds with his boss and other ad­vis­ers. Trump also largely blamed his third na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for over­selling the strength of Venezuela’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion ear­lier this year.

“I in­formed John Bolton last night that his ser­vices are no longer needed at the White House,” Trump said on Twit­ter. “I asked John for his res­ig­na­tion, which was given to me this morn­ing. I thank John very much for his ser­vice.”

The chaos and in­fight­ing that swirls around Trump’s White House was on im­me­di­ate dis­play — Bolton im­me­di­ately dis­puted

the pres­i­dent’s ac­count of his de­par­ture.

“Let’s be clear, I re­signed, hav­ing of­fered to do so last night,” Bolton said in a text to the Wash­ing­ton Post. “I will have my say in due course. But I have given you the facts on the res­ig­na­tion. My sole con­cern is US na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Bolton also re­sponded to Trump on Twit­ter. “I of­fered to re­sign last night and Pres­i­dent Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it to­mor­row,’ ” he wrote.

Bolton’s chief neme­sis within the ad­min­is­tra­tion, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, told re­porters that “the pres­i­dent’s en­ti­tled to the staff that he wants at any mo­ment.”

“He should have peo­ple that he trusts and val­ues,” said Pom­peo, who read­ily ac­knowl­edged dis­agree­ments with Bolton.

“There were def­i­nitely places where Am­bas­sador Bolton and I had dif­fer­ing views about how to pro­ceed,” Pom­peo said as he and Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin spoke to re­porters about an un­re­lated ter­ror­ism is­sue.

Hours ear­lier, the White House had listed Bolton as be­ing sched­uled to ap­pear along­side Pom­peo and Mnuchin at the same ses­sion. De­spite months of ru­mors about Bolton’s im­mi­nent ouster, the tim­ing Tues­day ap­peared to take sev­eral se­nior White House of­fi­cials and oth­ers by sur­prise.

Trump him­self had joked about the per­cep­tion that Bolton was on thin ice, say­ing in May that he ap­pre­ci­ated hear­ing Bolton’s views even though he of­ten dis­agreed with them.

“It doesn’t mat­ter,” Trump said, be­cause only he makes de­ci­sions.

Trump is likely to con­sider Stephen Biegun, the lead en­voy on North Korea, among pos­si­ble re­place­ments, cur­rent and for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said. Other po­ten­tial can­di­dates in­clude Dou­glas Mac­gre­gor, a re­tired Army of­fi­cer whose con­ser­va­tive commentary has praised Trump’s ap­proach on Iran and Richard Grenell, the am­bas­sador to Ger­many, cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials and out­side Trump ad­vis­ers said.

Mac­gre­gor met re­cently with Mul­vaney to dis­cuss the po­ten­tial of an ad­min­is­tra­tion job, two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the meet­ing said.

Bolton and Trump had been at odds on is­sues of both sub­stance and style.

Bolton did not like Trump’s re­peated meet­ings with Kim Jong Un, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said, and he had ar­gued against di­rectly meet­ing with Ira­nian of­fi­cials. He also did not like the pres­i­dent’s re­peated in­sis­tence that Rus­sia re­join the Group of Seven na­tions.

Trump reg­u­larly mocked Bolton as a war­mon­ger, some­times tick­ing off the names of coun­tries and jok­ing that Bolton would want to in­vade them, cur­rent and for­mer se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said.

The mus­ta­chioed con­ser­va­tive, a fix­ture in Re­pub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions and hawkish for­eign pol­icy cir­cles for decades, was an odd fit from the start.

Widely read and witty, Bolton was also known as a bu­reau­cratic knife-fighter and a dif­fi­cult col­league. He had ruf­fled feath­ers in pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions and on Capi­tol Hill. He could not win Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion as United Na­tions am­bas­sador in 2005, lead­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush to in­stall him there in a tem­po­rary ca­pac­ity.

Al­though he fre­quently said he had checked his own views at the West Wing door when he went to work for Trump, Bolton’s dis­trust of diplo­matic en­gage­ment with North Korea and Iran never abated. He also had more re­cently been seen as an obstacle in Trump’s ef­fort to bro­ker an end to the Afghanista­n War.

“There is no one is­sue here,” deputy White House press sec­re­tary Ho­gan Gi­d­ley told re­porters. “They just didn’t align on many is­sues.”

Se­nate Repub­li­cans were caught off guard — the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man, James In­hofe of Ok­la­homa, said he found out be­cause a staffer heard the news on the ra­dio — and sev­eral ex­pressed concerns about los­ing the hawkish ad­viser from the pres­i­dent’s na­tional se­cu­rity team.

“I’m very dis­ap­pointed. I don’t know whether he was fired, or whether he re­signed. I know what the pres­i­dent said, I know what he said,” In­hofe said. “None­the­less, he’s one of my clos­est friends. He’s one of the most knowl­edge­able that I know and I’m dis­ap­pointed that as­so­ci­a­tion has been dis­solved.”

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, said Trump de­served a na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser “he has con­fi­dence in.”

“It’s clear to me the re­la­tion­ship had soured, and I hope he’ll pick a na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser that he has con­fi­dence in,” Gra­ham said. “But I ap­pre­ci­ate John Bolton. I think he sees the world for the dan­ger­ous place it is.”

Bolton, who took the job in April 2018, was Trump’s third per­ma­nent na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. His deputy, Char­lie Kup­per­man, will con­tinue in an act­ing ca­pac­ity.

While Bolton tweeted that he “of­fered to re­sign” on Mon­day evening, the ac­tual time of his of­fer was Mon­day af­ter­noon, in a meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice with the pres­i­dent be­fore Trump flew to North Carolina for a po­lit­i­cal rally, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sion who re­quested anonymity to re­veal in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions.

Bolton then mulled his res­ig­na­tion into Mon­day evening and gave a short let­ter to NSC staffers on Tues­day, these peo­ple said.

A for­mer se­nior of­fi­cial said act­ing chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney, Pom­peo and Pence all con­cluded that Bolton had leaked in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions sur­round­ing a planned meet­ing at Camp David, Md., last week­end in which Trump would have met with Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives as a step to end­ing the 18-year war in Afghanista­n. Trump can­celed the se­cret meet­ing via Twit­ter on Satur­day evening.

Trump was in­fu­ri­ated at the idea that Bolton was trying to make him­self look good, the of­fi­cial said.

Bolton has in­sisted to col­leagues and con­fi­dants that he had done no such thing. Bolton’s al­lies viewed this charge as a way to “knife John on the way out,” one per­son close to him said, call­ing it “flatly un­true.”

Bolton had ar­gued against the U.S.-Tal­iban ne­go­ti­a­tions for months, say­ing that the Tal­iban could not be trusted and that Trump could achieve his chief aim in Afghanista­n — the with­drawal of U.S. troops — with­out any agree­ment with the mil­i­tants.

Democrats seized on the lat­est turnover in the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“To­day’s ac­tion by the pres­i­dent is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of his gov­ern­ment-by-chaos ap­proach and his rud­der­less na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a state­ment. “When Am­bas­sador Bolton’s ex­treme views aren’t enough for you, the United States is headed for even more chaotic times.”

Sen. Chris Mur­phy, D-Conn., a mem­ber of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, lamented that “we’re now headed for our fourth na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in less than three years.”

“This re­volv­ing door of Amer­i­can lead­er­ship is dev­as­tat­ing to our na­tion’s se­cu­rity as our al­lies now turn to more sta­ble na­tions — like China and Rus­sia — as our for­eign pol­icy in­fras­truc­ture falls apart,” he said.

Bolton was pre­ceded by Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster.

Flynn, a re­tired Army lieu­tenant gen­eral, re­signed in Fe­bru­ary 2017 over rev­e­la­tions about his ques­tion­able con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the United States and his mis­lead­ing state­ments about the mat­ter to se­nior Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. He is await­ing sen­tenc­ing later this year af­ter plead­ing guilty to ly­ing to the FBI.

McMaster, an Army lieu­tenant gen­eral at the time of his hir­ing by Trump, was forced out in March 2018 af­ter en­dur­ing the ire of con­ser­va­tives for months and dis­agree­ing with Trump on some key for­eign pol­icy strate­gies.

Tom Brenner / Bloomberg

John Bolton im­me­di­ately dis­puted the pres­i­dent’s ac­count of his de­par­ture as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, say­ing he of­fered to re­sign.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­port­edly reg­u­larly mocked for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, left, as a war­mon­ger.

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