US president Donald Trump was willing to halt criminal investigations to "give personal favors to dictators he liked", according to a new book written by his former national security adviser John Bolton.
After excerpts from the memoir, which is due to be published later this month, were printed in various news outlets, the Trump administration applied for an emergency temporary restraining order against Mr Bolton on Wednesday night in an attempt to block the book's release.
Mr Trump himself tweeted that the book was “made up of lies & fake stories” and called Mr Bolton a “disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war”.
Mr Bolton alleges that Mr Trump pleaded with China's president Xi Jinping to help him get re-elected by buying more US agricultural products, according to accounts of his forthcoming memoir.
In his pursuit of a good personal relationship with Mr Xi, Mr Trump is described as brushing aside human rights issues, even providing encouragement to the communist leader to continue to build concentration camps for China’s Muslim Uighur population.
Mr Bolton argues the House impeachment inquiry should have ranged much further than just Mr Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government for his own political gain.
According to excerpts published by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Washington Post, Mr Bolton describes a pattern of corruption in which Mr Trump routinely attempts to use the leverage of US power on other countries to his own personal ends.
"The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn't accept," Mr Bolton writes, adding that he took his concerns to the attorney general, William Barr.
The anecdote involving Mr Xi is particularly damaging for Mr Trump in the run-up to an election in which he is trying to position himself as tough on China, and his opponent, Joe Biden, as being in Beijing's pocket.
In a statement, Mr Biden said that if Mr Bolton’s “accounts are true, it’s not only morally repugnant, it’s a violation of Donald Trump’s sacred duty to the American people to protect America’s interests and defend our values”. The former vice-president also said that Mr Trump had “sold out the American people to protect his political future”.
In the memoir, The Room Where It Happened, Mr Bolton describes a one-on-one meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Xi on the sidelines of the June 2019 G20 meeting in Japan. Mr Xi complained to Mr Trump about US critics of China, and Mr Trump suggested a way Mr Xi could help him defeat his domestic opposition.
“He [Trump] 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,” Mr Bolton writes.
“He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.”
Reports in the wake of the G20 meeting suggested that Mr Trump had put pressure on Mr Xi to buy more US farm produce but Mr Xi had been reluctant to make any commitments. Speaking to the Senate on Wednesday, the US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, denied Mr Trump asked Mr Xi for election help.
Mr Trump emerges in the pages of the book as entirely unconcerned by China's gross human rights violations, including the incarceration of over a million Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang province.
At the opening dinner of the Osaka G20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Mr Xi had explained to Mr Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang,” Mr Bolton writes, according to an excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal.
"According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council's top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China."
Mr Trump also refused to issue a statement commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
“That was 15 years ago,” he told Mr Bolton (it was the 30th anniversary). “Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal. I don’t want anything,” Mr Trump said, according to Mr Bolton’s account.
Attempt to stop publication
The Trump administration has attempted to stop the publication of Mr Bolton's book, claiming it contains classified information. A last-ditch effort by the White House and the justice department this week came too late as copies had already been distributed to booksellers and journalists. Federal prosecutors were reported on Wednesday to be mulling charges against Mr Bolton.
In a statement on Wednesday, responding to the latest attempt, Mr Bolton's publisher Simon and Schuster called the justice department's restraining order "a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility. Hundreds of thousands of copies of John Bolton's 'The Room Where It Happened' have already been distributed around the country and the world. The injunction as requested by the government would accomplish nothing.''
Mr Bolton refused to testify in House impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump, where his account would probably have been the most important piece of evidence put before Congress, and the veteran diplomat was widely accused of holding back his evidence for his book, putting personal profit before duty.
Mr Bolton said he would appear if subpoenaed by the Senate, but Republicans voted to block the appearance of witnesses at the trial.
“Bolton’s staff were asked to testify before the House to Trump’s abuses, and did. They had a lot to lose and showed real courage. When Bolton was asked, he refused, and said he’d sue if subpoenaed. Instead, he saved it for a book,” Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, wrote on Twitter. “Bolton may be an author, but he’s no patriot.”
Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic senators who voted to remove Mr Trump from office, also voiced criticism of those around Mr Trump, who "have failed to hold him accountable".
Mr Bolton accuses congressional Democrats of committing "impeachment malpractice" by limiting the inquiry to the Ukraine affair (making US military aid conditional on Kyiv handed over compromising information on Biden) and moving too quickly.
Mr Bolton argues that the inquiry should have looked into Mr Trump's intervention into US investigations into Turkey's Halkbank to curry favour with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and into the China telecommunications manufacturer ZTE, with the aim of pleasing Mr Xi.
Mr Bolton's book quotes Mr Trump as saying that invading Venezuela would be "cool" and that it was "really part of the United States". He recounts a meeting in New Jersey last summer at which Mr Trump railed against journalists, declaring: "These people should be executed. They are scumbags".
The former national security adviser also confirms what Korea experts long suspected - that the summit diplomacy with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, was intended as spectacle. Mr Trump appeared unconcerned with the whole subject of denuclearisation.
"Trump told me he was prepared to sign a substance-free communique, have his press conference to declare victory, and then get out of town," Mr Bolton wrote. The president, however, became obsessed in the following months with getting his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to deliver an autographed CD of Elton John's Rocket Man to Mr Kim, to make light of the epithet Mr Trump had formerly used on the North Korean leader.
Mr Bolton's book also goes through a litany of what Mr Trump does not know about the world - that Britain had nuclear weapons of its own, for example, or that Finland was not part of Russia.
In a conversation with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, the president kept confusing the current and former presidents of Afghanistan.
The book describes the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is unstintingly loyal in public, as mocking the president behind his back at a 2018 summit with Mr Kim , slipping Mr Bolton a note about Mr Trump saying: “He is so full of shit.”
Mr Pompeo consistently described Mr Trump’s summit diplomacy with Mr Kim as a significant diplomatic achievement, in the face of deep scepticism from experts. According to Mr Bolton, Mr Pompeo described the initiative to charm Mr Kim from early on as having “zero probability of success”.–Guardian