John Bolton Clashes With BBC Journalist Over Book Deal, Trump Impeachment: 'Do You Work for Free?'

Former national security adviser John Bolton gave a spiky interview to BBC on Tuesday, clashing with host Emily Maitlis over his failure to testify during the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, and his work for an administration that Bolton himself has described as chaotic and corrupt.

Bolton was broadly critical of the president and his administration in his recently published memoir—"The Room Where it Happened"—which detailed several instances of Trump's troubling conduct and possible corruption.

The neoconservative operative—who has long pushed for hawkish American foreign policy and pushed for the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq—was then criticized for failing to volunteer his behind-the-scenes information about the Trump campaign during the impeachment of the president.

Bolton angrily dismissed the criticism in his BBC interview Tuesday. "You're absolutely wrong about that," Bolton said to the assertion that he was asked to testify to Congress. "There's a history here that I'd be delighted to lay out, although I'm sure you won't broadcast any of it because it's too complicated."

Asked again by Maitlis why he did not testify, Bolton shouted down the interviewer and demanded to be able to finish his point. "Let me finish," the former national security adviser said over Maitlis. "Let me finish, okay?...Will you let me finish my answer?" Bolton said.

"The House of Representatives never issued a subpoena for me, and when they issued a subpoena for my former deputy the White House ordered him not to testify," Bolton said.

"The fact is the advocates of impeachment did a terrible job and made the situation much worse, because they impeached Trump but by their own actions failed to achieve a conviction in the Senate. So the result of the impeachment was to empower Trump, not to constrain him."

Maitlis again challenged Bolton, noting he could still have told the American people what he knew even if he did not testify to Congress.

"And I did that and it took 500 pages to do it," Bolton replied. "And it may be inconvenient for you as a television reporter who wants answers that last for 30 seconds, but what I tried to do was lay out for the voters to read. And the book has sold very well so a lot of people are reading it, the full story, and I did that and I think that was the right course of action."

"I'm sure you did well in the book deal," Maitlis replied, prompting another angry outburst from Bolton. "Tell me something, do you work for free?" he asked. "You don't take a salary, I take it?" Maitlis confirmed that she is paid for her work.

"Of course you do. And that's why I got reimbursed for the book," he said. "I didn't cover anything up. In fact the administration has made something of a precedent in American history by trying to suppress the book. That should tell you what they think of what I've revealed in it."

Bolton also refused to commit to testifying belatedly if asked to do so by the Democrats. "I am not obliged to follow Nancy Pelosi's orders," he said. "I think she and the House Democrats made a severe mistake and the consequences of their mistake were to empower Trump. I guess you don't see that point."

"They thought they would deter him, but by failing to get a conviction they've empowered him, they've made the situation worse by their failed impeachment effort," Bolton said.

For all his criticism of Trump, Bolton has repeatedly refused to apologize for his role in the administration. Bolton left the White House in September 2019 after multiple disagreements with Trump on foreign policy.

Bolton reportedly pushed for more hawkish action on countries including North Korea and Iran, and did not agree with the president's personality-driven, transactional style of diplomacy.

"I did believe that Trump would be affected by the gravity of the position of the presidency of the United States and that he would recognize that the weight of the decisions he had to make would affect him in a way that would make more responsible decision-making possible," Bolton said.

"I thought I could help out, and I don't regret it even if it turned out that I was wrong. Donald Trump was not at all affected by the presidency."

Bolton said he hopes Trump loses the coming election, though maintained his past vow not to vote for the Democratic candidate. "I think Trump needs to be denied a second term," he said.

"I think the damage that he's done to the United States both internationally and domestically can be repaired. I'm actually optimistic it can be repaired fairly quickly. But I worry that two terms of Trump could make a lot of that damage irreparable."

"I'm going to be unhappy on election night or whenever the election is resolved one way or the other. I wish we had a real conservative Republican running. We don't, so I'm gonna write in the name of a conservative Republican."

If Trump does win, Bolton—disavowed by former colleagues and Trump allies as a "deep state" operative and traitor—said the GOP would be in deep trouble. "One of the worst things about the Trump presidency is that the philosophical basis of the party has been distorted."

"Instead of debating policy issues, the debate both within the Republican party and in the country as a whole is do you agree with Donald Trump or not," Bolton continued. "That's not the mark of a mature democratic debate. It should not be based on personalities, it should be based on philosophy."

Challenged as to whether he was part of the "swamp" that Trump vowed to drain on the 2016 campaign trail, Bolton replied simply: "Of course not."

John Bolton, Donald Trump, 2020 election, impeachment
Former national security adviser John Bolton is pictured at the Page Auditorium on the campus of Duke University on February 17, in Durham, North Carolina. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images/Getty