The Best Quotes From John Bolton Interviews on Eve of Book Release

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton has teased some of the more stunning revelations from his new book—"The Room Where it Happened"—released Tuesday and detailing his 17 months in President Donald Trump's administration.

Bolton gave lengthy interviews to NPR and ABC News in the run-up to his book's release. Excerpts published in the media paint a picture of a disorganized White House headed by an erratic and ignorant president, incapable of and unwilling to fulfill his duties.

Trump tried to block the publication of Bolton's book, arguing it contained classified material and was therefore illegal. But a judge rejected the Justice Department's bid to stop the book this weekend.

The president has decried the book as consisting of "ridiculous statements" and "pure fiction." Trump also branded Bolton a "sick puppy."

Newsweek has compiled some of the most striking quotes from Bolton's two interviews that offer a window into Trump's approach to some of the biggest issues facing his administration, combining them with relevant excerpts from a pre-publication copy of the book.

"How not to be president"

Bolton is scathing of Trump's performance as president. Though he voted for Trump in the 2016 election, Bolton said he will write in a conservative Republican rather than cast his vote for the president or his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.

"I don't think he's really competent to be president," Bolton told NPR, describing his book as "about how not to be president."

Bolton said it is hard to keep the president focused on complex national security and foreign policy issues, describing Trump's thought process as "a random walk that never stops. I mean, it's like a random walk meets 'Groundhog Day.'"

There is no overarching plan behind his foreign policy decisions, Bolton added.

"I don't think there is a policy. My point is that policy is derived from careful thinking, analysis, building up evidence, the critical strategic task of matching resources with priorities. He just doesn't do that."

The president reportedly has little interest in detailed briefings or the advice of his expert aides. Briefings are said to be boiled down to bullet point lists or presentations heavily reliant on graphics to hold his attention.

Bolton said Trump "rarely read much." Intelligence briefings "took place perhaps once or twice a week," Bolton said, which he described as "very unusual—they should take place every day."

Despite reports to the contrary, the president maintains that he is a highly intelligent and driven individual, infamously describing himself as a "stable genius" in one of his Twitter tirades. "How can anybody call him a stable genius?" Bolton asked.

"It's hard for me to imagine somebody who would say that. He did say it a couple times when I was in his presence. And I just didn't react to him."

"Trump simply did not want to hear anything bad about the situation in China"

China has been a constant in Trump's foreign policy. Since taking to the campaign trail, the president has vowed to take a tougher approach to Beijing and stop the Chinese Communist Party from "ripping off" the U.S.

He launched a massive trade war against China that has loomed over his entire time in office to date, despite warnings that the approach would be paid for by Americans. In recent months, Trump has also bolstered his China-skeptic image by blaming Beijing for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

But the president has also lauded his personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and shown a willingness to compromise with Beijing to secure a trade deal.

In his book, Bolton alleges that Trump also gave tacit approval to some of Xi's worst human rights abuses in Xinjiang, where millions of people from Muslim minority groups have been sent to re-education camps.

"It sounds like he's tough on one day, the next day he's not," Bolton told NPR of the president's inconsistent approach.

Trump and his allies have used COVID-19 as a stick with which to beat Beijing, but initially the president praised Xi's response and expressed confidence—with no evidence—that the pandemic would disappear.

Bolton claimed that the president actively avoided concerning news about the pandemic, particularly any suggestion that it might torpedo the U.S. economy. "Trump simply did not want to hear anything bad about the situation in China," he said.

"He didn't want anything that could be seen as critical of Xi Jinping. He didn't want to hear anything about the extent of the virus or whether the Chinese had lied about its effects or covered up the spread of the disease.

"And he didn't want to hear anything about negative effects on the Chinese economy that could undermine the trade negotiations."

"He did not want to hear anything that could suggest trouble for the American economy, which he saw as his, but not unrealistically, he saw as his ticket to reelection."

Bolton has accused Trump of soliciting Chinese help in November's election, asking Beijing to purchase more agricultural goods to give a boost to American farmers in key swing states. Bolton said it was "stunningly clear" that Trump asked China to interfere.

"They talked frequently about Trump's reelection," Bolton said of the president and Xi, the latter apparently wishing there was no two-term limit in the U.S.

"And the president said, 'Yeah, I've had people say to me that it's too bad about the two-term limit.'"

"Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle"

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also loomed over the Trump presidency, having directed an operation to meddle in the 2016 election and undermine Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

Trump has always rejected any suggestion of Russian involvement in his win. He has openly pursued closer relations with Moscow, to the horror of many career diplomats.

Bolton was frank about the gulf in intelligence and experience between Trump and his Russian counterpart. "Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle," Bolton said of Trump in his ABC interview.

"I think Putin is smart, tough. He plays a bad hand extremely well. And I think he sees that he's not faced with a serious adversary here."

Bolton said Russia will continue its efforts to interfere in U.S. democracy, as it has done since the Cold War. That does not necessarily mean always backing Trump, but rather undermining democratic institutions and national unity.

"They have a doctrine and a strategy," he said. "They call it asymmetric warfare. They understand exactly what they're doing. And I don't think it's because...Vladimir Putin really thinks it's great to have Donald Trump as president.

"I think Vladimir Putin and their strategy rests on the real perception that American politics today is very fraught, very tense, very difficult."

"Everything they can do to stir mistrust, to undercut the legitimacy of our democratic institutions helps to paralyze America. And a weaker, more paralyzed, more divided America is in Russia's interests. They're having great success at it."

"He didn't want the girl to break up with him"

Trump's North Korea policy was one of Bolton's biggest problems during his time in the White House. Bolton is a longtime hawk who previously recommended military action to destroy Pyongyang's nuclear capability. He considered Trump's approach naive and directionless.

Trump has met with Kim Jong Un three times to discuss denuclearization and sanctions relief. But Bolton suggested the president was more interested in a photo opportunity than real progress.

Talks have broken down since the collapse of the third meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, where Trump refused Kim's offer to dismantle his main nuclear facility in exchange for sanctions relief.

"There was considerable emphasis on the photo opportunity and the press reaction to it and little or no focus on what such meetings did for the bargaining position of the United States," Bolton told ABC of the Hanoi meeting.

"I think he was so focused on the reelection that longer-term considerations fell by the wayside," he added, noting Trump saw all foreign policy matters through the same prism.

In his book, Bolton compares Trump's North Korea approach to his purported dating strategy.

"He said that he always—back in the day, as they say—he always wanted to be the one who broke up with the girl first. He didn't want the girl to break up with him. And he used that to describe whether he would cancel the summit with Kim Jong Un first or whether we would risk the North Koreans canceling it," Bolton told NPR.

"If the president wins, the political constraint is gone"

Bolton warned that a win for Trump in November would likely embolden him to double down on the divisive and allegedly criminal conduct displayed during his time in office. "if the president wins, the political constraint is gone," he told ABC. "And because he has no philosophical grounding, there's no telling what will happen in a second term."

Bolton claimed that reelection is all Trump really cares about, and that every policy decision is based on how it will play with voters. "I didn't see anything where that wasn't the major factor," he said of the November poll.

Bolton has been widely criticized for failing to share the information in his book during the impeachment inquiry into the president. Bolton did not appear in front of House investigators and was not called to testify by the Republican-controlled Senate, though he did express willingness to do so.

The revelations in his book have revived this criticism, with some suggesting Bolton's information could have swung the Senate against the president and removed him from office. But Bolton—who repeatedly stressed he remains a staunch conservative—claimed to ABC: "It would not have made any difference."

Bolton framed the process as a political play by Democrats seeking primarily to tar Trump with impeachment. "I didn't think the Democrats had the wit or the political understanding or the reach to change what, for them, was an exercise in arousing their own base," he said.

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Former National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks on stage during a public discussion at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina on February 17, 2020. LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images/Getty