Bolton out as Trump na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor

The pres­i­dent feuded of­ten with his hawk­ish aide, the third man to hold the po­si­tion. Top deputy takes over.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Eli Stokols, Chris Mege­rian and Tracy Wilkin­son

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump said Tues­day he had fired na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor John Bolton, an­nounc­ing in a tweet that he’d told Bolton on Mon­day night that “his ser­vices are no longer needed” af­ter the two had re­peat­edly clashed over for­eign pol­icy pri­or­i­ties and de­ci­sions.

The abrupt ouster of Trump’s third na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor comes as the White House grap­ples with a se­ries of fraught se­cu­rity chal­lenges, in­clud­ing Trump’s can­cel­la­tion of peace talks with the Tal­iban in Afghanista­n, his costly trade war with China, his “max­i­mum pres­sure” cam­paign against Iran, and his at­tempts, un­suc­cess­ful so far, to per­suade North Ko­rea to give up its nu­clear arse­nal.

While Trump said he would name a new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor next week, the lat­est high-level shakeup at the White House raised fresh doubts about Trump’s stew­ard­ship of for­eign pol­icy — and con­trol of his own staff — as he headed into his re­elec­tion cam­paign.

The White House says Charles Kup­per­man, who joined the ad­min­is­tra­tion in Jan­uary as deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, will re­place Bolton in an act­ing role. Trump has left “act­ing” offi

cials atop sev­eral fed­eral agen­cies, so he could leave Kup­per­man in place or name a re­place­ment as he promised on Tues­day.

Kup­per­man, 68, has spent four decades in the na­tional se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, fo­cus­ing on de­fense, arms con­trol and aero­space. He served in Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and worked for de­fense con­trac­tors Boe­ing and Lockheed Martin. He has a doc­tor­ate in strate­gic stud­ies from USC.

A White House spokesman, Ho­gan Gi­d­ley, said the pres­i­dent wanted a na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor “who can carry out his agenda,” which in­cludes dis­en­gag­ing from for­eign con­flicts. “It’s very clear that John Bolton’s poli­cies and pri­or­i­ties did not align with Pres­i­dent Trump’s,” he said on Fox News.

Af­ter Trump can­celed his pro­posed meet­ing last week­end at Camp David with mem­bers of the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment, sto­ries quickly emerged that Bolton had strongly op­posed the sum­mit and the pro­posed peace deal with the Tal­iban — and to some at the White House, he ap­peared to take credit for their col­lapse.

Ac­cord­ing to a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, the pres­i­dent came to be­lieve that Bolton “was not fully on the team” as he balked at de­fend­ing Trump pub­licly as force­fully as Sec­re­tary of State Michael R. Pom­peo and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence have.

Trump, the of­fi­cial said, be­lieved Bolton and his staff leaked sto­ries about in­ter­nal divi­sion, in­clud­ing those re­lated to the pres­i­dent’s scut­tled meet­ing with the Tal­iban last week­end, which both­ered the pres­i­dent more than the dis­agree­ment it­self. Pence ar­dently dis­puted that nar­ra­tive in a tweet, and Pom­peo took to the air­waves Sun­day, ap­pear­ing on all five morn­ing pol­i­tics shows to de­fend and ex­plain the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sions.

Bolton, who had can­celed sev­eral re­cent tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances, did not of­fer the same sort of pub­lic de­fense or praise for the pres­i­dent — a sin in the eyes of Trump that ap­par­ently mat­tered more than any sub­stan­tive pol­icy dis­agree­ment.

As of­ten hap­pens un­der Trump, there was im­me­di­ate con­fu­sion as to the se­quence of events, and un­der what cir­cum­stances, with Trump and Bolton of­fer­ing con­flict­ing ac­counts of whether he had re­signed or been fired.

Trump tweeted around noon Mon­day that he had sacked Bolton “last night,” adding, “I dis­agreed strongly with many of his sug­ges­tions, as did oth­ers in the Ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

“I asked John for his res­ig­na­tion, which was given to me this morn­ing. I thank John very much for his ser­vice,” he said.

But Bolton quickly chal­lenged that se­quence of events. “I of­fered to re­sign last night and Pres­i­dent Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it to­mor­row,’” Bolton tweeted about 10 min­utes af­ter Trump’s an­nounce­ment.

As is typ­i­cal un­der Trump, the dis­pute un­folded in dra­matic fash­ion on Twit­ter and live TV. Bolton, still at the White House, texted Fox News host Brian Kilmeade while he was on the air.

“John Bolton just texted me, just now, he’s watch­ing,” Kilmeade said. “He said, ‘Let’s be clear, I re­signed.’”

Less than an hour ear­lier, the White House had no­ti­fied re­porters that Bolton would ap­pear at a 1:30 p.m. brief­ing with two Cab­i­net of­fi­cials, Pom­peo and Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven T. Mnuchin. By the time they stepped to the podium, Bolton was no longer in the build­ing.

In a sign of the in­ter­nal di­vi­sions in Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity team, Pom­peo didn’t sug­ar­coat the clashes.

“There were many times Am­bas­sador Bolton and I dis­agreed,” Pom­peo said. “That’s to be sure.”

Mnuchin, who also had clashed with Bolton, re­minded re­porters at the brief­ing that “the pres­i­dent’s view of the Iraq war and Am­bas­sador Bolton’s are very dif­fer­ent.”

Bolton strongly backed the U.S.-led in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003 and never re­nounced that view, even af­ter it be­came clear the de­ci­sion to in­vade was based on faulty in­tel­li­gence. Trump, who ini­tially said he backed the war, later turned against it.

Bolton’s terse res­ig­na­tion let­ter was re­leased in late af­ter­noon. “I hereby re­sign, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately, as As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent for Na­tional Se­cu­rity Af­fairs. Thank you for hav­ing af­forded me this op­por­tu­nity to serve our coun­try,” it read.

His ouster came as a sur­prise even though his in­creas­ing iso­la­tion from Trump and lack of in­flu­ence on for­eign pol­icy mat­ters was no se­cret within the White House.

A prom­i­nent hawk and neo­con­ser­va­tive, Bolton held po­si­tions at the Jus­tice and State de­part­ments be­fore Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush named him U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions as a re­cess ap­point­ment in 2005. Bolton re­signed 18 months later when it be­came clear he would not win Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion.

He was a Fox News con­trib­u­tor when Trump named him na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor in April 2018. Trump an­nounced the ap­point­ment on Twit­ter, sur­pris­ing Bolton with its tim­ing.

Dur­ing his 17 months in the job, he sup­ported Trump on sev­eral key is­sues — es­pe­cially the de­ci­sion to with­draw from the 2015 nu­clear deal with Iran —but he also ad­vo­cated ag­gres­sive stances to­ward North Ko­rea and Afghanista­n that put the two in con­flict.

Bolton also took the lead on Venezuela, as­sur­ing Trump that its pres­i­dent, Ni­co­las Maduro, could be eas­ily ousted from of­fice. At one news brief­ing, Bolton stood with a notepad on which he’d scrawled a line about “5,000 troops to Venezuela” that ap­peared to be a threat of a U.S. in­cur­sion.

Trump in­vested po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal in the project, wel­com­ing Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion fig­ures into the Oval Of­fice and declar­ing recog­ni­tion of op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaido as the le­git­i­mate pres­i­dent of the be­lea­guered oil-rich coun­try. But nine months later, Maduro has not budged, the op­po­si­tion is flail­ing, and the en­tire mis­sion has stalled.

Bolton was an open skep­tic of Trump’s warm em­brace of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, warn­ing that the dic­ta­tor would never give up his nu­clear weapons de­spite Trump’s three meet­ings with him.

When Trump be­came the first U.S. pres­i­dent to step into the Korean de­mil­i­ta­rized zone in June, grasp­ing hands with Kim, those present in­cluded Pom­peo, the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter and ad­vi­sor, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law and ad­vi­sor, Jared Kush­ner. Bolton was more than a thou­sand miles away in Mon­go­lia.

Bolton also dis­agreed with Trump’s re­peated of­fers to meet with Iran’s pres­i­dent, Has­san Rouhani, on the side­lines of the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly this month. It’s un­clear if the meet­ing will take place.

Sev­eral names were floated as pos­si­ble re­place­ments for Bolton.

Among them is Rob Blair, an aide to act­ing Chief of Staff Mick Mul­vaney. Blair has taken a grow­ing role in na­tional se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy dis­cus­sions, and was in­vited into a num­ber of meet­ings with the pres­i­dent where Bolton was not.

Trump may con­sider Richard Gren­nell, who is U.S. am­bas­sador to Ger­many.

An out­spo­ken and provoca­tive fig­ure, Gren­nell served as Bolton’s spokesman when Bolton was the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions.

Another po­ten­tial can­di­date is Stephen Biegun, the spe­cial representa­tive for North Ko­rea. A spe­cial­ist in Rus­sian af­fairs and a former Ford Mo­tor Co. ex­ec­u­tive, Biegun served on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil un­der Bush.

On Capi­tol Hill, re­ac­tion fell along fa­mil­iar lines. Sen. Sher­rod Brown (D-Ohio) said he “wel­comed” the news, given Bolton’s long his­tory of hawk­ish for­eign pol­icy views, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (DSan Fran­cisco) said the abrupt fir­ing was “a sym­bol of dis­ar­ray in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Re­pub­li­cans ap­peared more di­vided. Bolton had served as an ad­vi­sor to Mitt Rom­ney’s los­ing 2012 run for the White House, and Rom­ney — now a U.S. sen­a­tor from Utah — called Bolton’s ouster “a huge loss.”

“John Bolton is a bril­liant man with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in for­eign pol­icy,” Rom­ney said. “His point of view was not al­ways the same as every­body else in the room. That’s why you wanted him there. The fact that he was a con­trar­ian from time to time was an as­set, not a li­a­bil­ity.”

But Sen. Rand Paul (RKy.), an iso­la­tion­ist out­lier in the GOP Se­nate con­fer­ence, as­sailed Bolton and praised Trump for oust­ing him.

“I com­mend @re­alDon­aldTrump for this nec­es­sary ac­tion,” Paul wrote. “The Pres­i­dent has great in­stincts on for­eign pol­icy and end­ing our end­less wars. He should be served by those who share those views.”

Bolton’s long­time crit­ics ap­peared re­lieved to see him go.

Jamil Dak­war, di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union’s Hu­man Rights Project, all but cheered.

Bolton “cel­e­brated when vic­tims of tor­ture were de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to hold their tor­tur­ers ac­count­able. He ab­di­cated on our coun­try’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to its in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights com­mit­ments. None of this was ap­par­ently dis­agree­able enough to the pres­i­dent,” Dak­war said.

Michael Do­ran, a se­nior fel­low at the Hud­son In­sti­tute, a con­ser­va­tive think tank in Wash­ing­ton, said Bolton was never a clear fit for the role since the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor’s job was to syn­the­size in­for­ma­tion for the pres­i­dent, whereas Bolton had al­ways been more of an ad­vo­cate.

Trump “likes to have a hard take­off and a softer land­ing. Bolton is a hard­liner across the board,” Do­ran said.

“I’m ac­tu­ally sur­prised that he lasted as long as he did,” he added.

Evan Vucci As­so­ci­ated Press

Chip Somodevill­a Getty Images

JOHN BOLTON is flanked by Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven T. Mnuchin, left, and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence in May. Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced on Twit­ter on Tues­day that he had fired his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor. But Bolton dis­puted that, say­ing he re­signed.

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