Bolton Says in Book Trump Sought Xi’s Help in Re-Election Bid

  • Bloomberg
  • Politics News
Bolton Says in Book Trump Sought Xi’s Help in Re-Election Bid
Credit: © Reuters.

(Bloomberg) -- Former National Security Advisor John Bolton writes in a new book that President Donald Trump asked Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help him win re-election by buying more U.S. farm products, according to an excerpt published by The Wall Street Journal.

The disclosure is part of a devastating portrayal of Trump’s conduct of foreign policy by Bolton, the most senior official in this White House so far to publish an account of his experience. The book is poised to further burden Trump’s already struggling effort to secure a second term.

In the book, which is scheduled to be released next week, Bolton describes a discussion between Trump and Xi at last year’s Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Bolton writes that Trump was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win” but said he could not print the president’s exact words because of the government’s pre-publication review process for classified material forbade it, according to the excerpt.

The former top security aide said the result was emblematic of “the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and U.S. national interests,” writing that he routinely made foreign policy choices in order to benefit himself politically.

“I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” Bolton writes.

The New York Times (NYSE: NYT ) and Washington Post both also published reports on Bolton’s book on Wednesday after obtaining copies. A Trump campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television that Bolton’s allegation Trump sought Xi’s intervention in his re-election is “absurd.”

“John Bolton is just trying to sell books, that’s all there is to it,” he said.

But the White House is already struggling to consistently rebut Bolton’s account. While Trump said Monday that “maybe he’s not telling the truth,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday the book is “full of classified information” without denying Bolton’s assertions.

Re-Election Lens

Bolton claims that Trump views China policy entirely through the lens of his re-election, fixated on securing a trade deal at the expense of almost everything else. That, according to Bolton, raises the possibility that Trump’s recent tough talk about China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic is nothing more than bluster that may dissolve if he wins re-election.

“The Trump presidency is not grounded in philosophy, grand strategy or policy,” Bolton writes. “It is grounded in Trump. That is something to think about for those, especially China realists, who believe they know what he will do in a second term.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said it was “absolutely untrue” that Trump asked Xi for help with the 2020 U.S. election during trade talks in Japan last year. Lighthizer made the statement in Senate testimony on Wednesday.

Bolton writes that last year, Trump offered to reverse criminal prosecutions against Huawei Technology Companies Ltd. if it would help secure a phase-one trade deal with China.

The book, titled “The Room Where It Happened,” could have lasting consequences for Trump’s campaign, which has already been bedeviled by his response to nationwide protests against police brutality and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump is trailing his presumptive opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, in national polls and in many polls of key swing states.

The Justice Department on Monday filed a lawsuit seeking to block publication of Bolton’s book, set for June 23. The government alleges the memoir contains classified information that would endanger national security if it becomes public.

The legal wrangling, combined with Trump’s heated criticism of Bolton, has generated interest in the book, which has become a number-one best seller on (NASDAQ: AMZN ) ahead of its publication. Many former Trump aides have published accounts of their time in the White House, but none who held as high-ranking a position as Bolton.

At the very least, the book could undercut the Trump campaign’s argument that the president is far tougher on China than Biden would be, if elected. Trump’s son Donald Jr. has taken to using the hashtag #BejingBiden in tweets and has accused the presumptive Democratic nominee of failing to recognize the threat posed by China’s Communist Party.

China Concessions

The list of Trump’s concessions to China are long, according to Bolton. He was uninterested in supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters last year and told Xi in the summer of 2019 that building camps in the Xinjiang region to imprison hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslim was “exactly the right thing to do.”

The description of Trump’s policies in Bolton’s book will also lend credence to Democrats’ claims that the president’s actions essentially gave China a green light to carry out some of its most egregious abuses, including its crackdown on Uighurs and its decision to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong.

The White House announced Wednesday that Trump signed a bill rebuking China over its treatment of the Uighurs minutes after the book excerpts were published.

Defending Taiwan, according to Bolton, also isn’t a priority for the president. He describes Trump as being deferential and at times downright obsequious to Xi, at one point calling him the greatest Chinese leader in 300 years -- and then amending it to “the greatest leader in Chinese history.”

The revelations came out at almost the exact time that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was meeting China’s top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, for secretive talks at Hickam air force base in Hawaii. Both sides have so far refused to discuss the agenda for the talks.

Bolton argues that House Democrats could have expanded their impeachment inquiry beyond Ukraine to focus on what the former security aide called a “pattern of fundamentally unacceptable behavior that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency.”

But Bolton has also faced backlash from critics for his refusal to testify in the House’s impeachment inquiry. Bolton said he wanted to wait to see if a judge would rule if he he could testify despite White House objections.

He offered to testify during the Senate’s trial of Trump’s impeachment. Republicans who control the chamber voted not to hear from him before acquitting the president.

The New York Times reported that Bolton also wrote that Trump said he was willing to stop U.S. criminal probes “to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” citing cases involving China’s ZTE Corp (HK: 0763 ). and Turkey’s Halkbank. Bolton writes the president sought to seek favor with Xi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan through the offers.

“The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Bolton writes, according to the Times, adding that he expressed his concern directly to Attorney General William Barr and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

Bloomberg News reported last October that Erdogan made multiple appeals to Trump to avoid charges against Halkbank, one of Turkey’s biggest lenders. Trump assigned Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to look into the issue after an April phone conversation with Erdogan.

No action was taken for months after the call, but U.S. prosecutors released an undated indictment in October accusing the bank of fraud, money laundering and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

(Updates with Lighthizer comment in 11th paragraph.)

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

© Bloomberg. John Bolton listens as Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2018. Photographer: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg

Drop an image here or Supported formats: *.jpg, *.png, *.gif up to 5mb

Error: File type not supported

Drop an image here or


Related Articles