Bolton Book Details Intense Frustration With Kushner in White House

Former national security adviser John Bolton has detailed the frustration he endured over Jared Kushner—senior adviser and son-in-law to President Donald Trump—during his time in the White House in his forthcoming book.

In The Room Where it Happened—released on Tuesday—Bolton paints a picture of a chaotic and nepotistic White House in which Kushner and Ivanka Trump, his wife and the president's oldest daughter, wielded undue influence over career staffers and experts.

Kushner has been given an expansive White House portfolio, at different times directed to oversee the administration's Middle East peace efforts, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, criminal justice reform, trade negotiations with China and Mexico, and immigration issues, among others.

The 39-year-old has brought a private enterprise approach to government work, seeking to circumvent traditional bureaucracy and formalities with close personal relationships and teams of technocrats, reporting directly to the president and often stepping on the toes of other key aides.

Among them was Bolton, who in his book—a pre-release copy of which was provided to Newsweek—noted Kushner's regular forays into all areas of the administration's foreign policy.

Though Bolton's book indicates his frustration at Kushner's prominence, the real estate mogul seems to have courted Bolton—a well-known neo-conservative hawk who had served in three previous presidential administrations—for his experience and backing.

Bolton recalls several meetings with Kushner to discuss his widely-panned Middle East peace plan, and notes that Kushner "said twice how much better I would be handling State than present management" while Rex Tillerson was heading the department.

When Bolton lost his "walk in" access to the president as then-Chief of Staff John Kelly sought to introduce some discipline to the White House, Bolton said he received a text from Kushner reading, "You are always welcome at the White House." But Kushner's support appears to have done little to endear him to Bolton.

The U.S., France and the U.K. launched airstrikes on Syria after President Bashar al-Assad executed a chemical weapons attack against civilian areas in 2018. In the run up to the strikes, Bolton described how the Trump administration gathered support for action.

Bolton said Kushner relayed a message from British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson—now prime minister—expressing support for a joint strike. Bolton said the message was "encouraging," though added: "Why a foreign minister was calling Kushner, however, was something to address in coming days."

Bolton suggested Kushner had also overreached in negotiations with the Turkish government to solve an escalating tariff battle, sparked by Turkey's detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson and proposed U.S. action against the Turkish bank Halkbank for violating sanctions on Iran.

Vice President Mike Pence suggested Kushner speak with Turkey's finance minister—the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—given both men's close ties to the national leaders.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "exploded" when Bolton told them, he says in his book—"Pompeo because this was one more example of Kushner's doing international negotiations he shouldn't have been doing (along with the never-quite-ready Middle East peace plan)."

"Kushner also said he had told the Turkish son-in-law he was calling in his 'personal' capacity as a matter of 'friendship' and in no way was signaling 'weakness' to the Turks," Bolton wrote. "I doubted the Turks believed any of that."

Bolton's book contains several startling and unflattering revelations about the Trump administration's approach to China and North Korea. Kushner appears to have been involved in both.

Kushner had been "engaged in a mutual courtship on China matters" with controversial but legendary former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger "since the transition," Bolton wrote. The Chinese government has reportedly been trying to cultivate a close relationship with Kushner, identifying him as a way into the Oval Office.

Bolton recalled a trade negotiation meeting with Chinese representatives. Trump told the Chinese that "Kushner would also be involved" in the process, "at which point all the Chinese perked up and smiled," Bolton wrote.

On North Korea too, Kushner and Ivanka were rarely far from the action as Trump pursued diplomatic progress with Pyongyang—something Bolton was skeptical would succeed. Trump held three meetings with Kim Jong Un but is yet to deliver any meaningful progress on North Korean denuclearization and sanctions relief.

One meeting took place at the North-South Demilitarized Zone border, with the president even stepping onto North Korea territory next to a beaming Kim. Ahead of the event, Bolton attended a meeting at Seoul's Blue House—the South Korean presidential residence.

At one point, Trump "asked why Jared and Ivanka were not in the meeting (for which there was a perfectly good reason)" and asked the head of his secret service detail "to bring them into the room (for which there was no reason at all)," Bolton said. "Even the South Koreans were embarrassed."

Trump then proceeded to the DMZ meeting. Bolton did not attend, dismissing the event as a publicity stunt that did not serve U.S. interests. "Trump walked into North Korea, with Kushner and Ivanka nearby," he wrote.

"Kim looked delighted in the pictures, as he should have. What an incredible gift Trump had given him, coming to the DMZ for the personal publicity. The whole thing made me ill."

Iran was one of Bolton's priorities during his time in the White House. He advocated an uncompromising approach to Tehran, pushing for Trump to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and reimpose crippling sanctions on the country.

Bolton has previously advocated for regime change in Iran, even championing a fringe militant organization dismissed by critics as a cult and terrorist organization with no support inside Iran.

Trump's thinking on Iran has reportedly been steered by Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has also advocated a tougher line on Tehran and overseen ongoing airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria plus covert actions within Iran.

The Kushner and Netanyahu families have known each other for many years, though Bolton says this actually proved a problem for the prime minister when Kushner was handed the Israel-Palestine brief. Netanyahu was "dubious" about the decision, though "was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly," Bolton said.

"But like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed," Bolton wrote.

Despite their familial ties, Kushner blocked Netanyahu's calls to Trump at least once. Kushner was part of the U.S. delegation attending the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France in August 2019.

French President Emmanuel Macron was trying to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, hoping to open a channel of communications between Washington and Tehran and maybe save the JCPOA.

Bolton, Pompeo and Netanyahu were all horrified at the idea. "I was determined to make one more effort to talk Trump out of meeting with Zarif," Bolton wrote.

Netanyahu was desperately trying to contact Trump to also push him to ignore Zarif but could not get through. Netanyahu was in touch with Pompeo and both the prime minister and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer were trying to reach Bolton to push him to speak with Trump.

But when Bolton got to the floor of Trump's hotel room, he found Kushner on the phone with the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman explaining "he was not going to allow Netanyahu's call to go through."

After the call ended, Kushner told Bolton "he had stopped this and an earlier effort by Netanyahu because he didn't think it was appropriate for a foreign leader to talk to Trump about whom he should speak to," Bolton wrote.

Kushner, Bolton and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney then spoke with Trump in his hotel room about the proposed Zarif meeting. "Kushner said he would have the meeting because there was nothing to lose," Bolton wrote. "These people had an attention span no longer than the deal in front of them."

Kushner was wielding influence at home, too, Bolton wrote. He and Ivanka outlasted early rivals to become the most influential faction within the administration, frequently influencing policy and guiding the president towards their initiatives.

Bolton suspected they were pushing for Pence to be replaced by former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley ahead of the 2020 election. Bolton has been effusive in his praise for Pence during recent interviews, and said reports that Kushner and Ivanka were pushing for him to be outed "was not idle speculation."

Bolton also recalled how Kushner was "delighted" by Mulvaney's appointment as acting chief of staff, describing the "acting" element of the title as "just a charade."

"As I pieced things together later, there were no real negotiations between Trump and Mulvaney over the terms of the job, so the decision struck me as somewhat impulsive," Bolton wrote. "Pompeo thought Mulvaney would do essentially whatever Ivanka and Kushner wanted him to do, which worried both of us philosophically."

John Bolton, Jared Kushner White House, book
Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner walks off Marine One at the White House after spending the weekend at Bedminster, New Jersey on June 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty