Or was he just venting? NBC News reports that John Bolton took aim at Donald Trump’s real-estate-mogul approach to diplomacy in a “private speech.” Six people present for the talk note that Trump’s former national-security adviser specifically criticized Trump’s prioritization of personal interests over national interests, including his own financial interests. That’s guaranteed to grab the interest of House Democrats, assuming they can get him to sit down for a deposition:
Former national security adviser John Bolton derided President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law during a private speech last week and suggested his former boss’ approach to U.S. policy on Turkey is motivated by personal or financial interests, several people who were present for the remarks told NBC News.
According to six people who were there, Bolton also questioned the merits of Trump applying his business acumen to foreign policy, saying such issues can’t be approached like the win-or-lose edict that drives real estate deals: When one doesn’t work, you move on to the next. The description was part of a broader portrait Bolton outlined of a president who lacks understanding of the interconnected nature of relationships in foreign policy and the need for consistency, these people said.
One subject was, however, notably absent from the discussion:
Multiple people who attended Bolton’s private speech in Miami did not recall him mentioning Ukraine but said he told attendees that he had kept a resignation letter in his desk for three months. Bolton declined to comment for this article.
Recall that Bolton could have been telling this story to Adam Schiff’s committee, had they been patient enough to let the executive-privilege issue play out in court. Instead, House Democrats sniffed at Bolton’s court challenge and chalked it up to Bolton’s participation in a plan to obstruct the House inquiry, which will be part of the impeachment articles they will produce.
Perhaps they should have paid more attention. Bolton seems to hint that there are other issues than Ukraine in play here. Does Trump conduct foreign policy to benefit his private business? That’s what these sources seem to be telling NBC that Bolton implied in his speech. That’s the same issue that Trump has been raising about the Bidens, one that could conceivably cross the Emoluments Clause if it can be substantiated.
Axios’ Jonathan Swan argued that House Democrats misinterpreted Bolton’s stance, and that this reinforces their own reporting:
Reinforces what we reported on Sunday. John Bolton is the biggest wildcard of all the former Trump advisers. He knows the most and has no interest in being known as a “Trump loyalist” in his post WH life. People misinterpreted his motivations for appealing to courts re testimony. https://t.co/aUWDPT6NDc
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) November 12, 2019
Swan noted on Sunday that Bolton’s attorney had notified House counsel of Bolton’s extensive notes taken as part of his duties as nat-sec adviser. Bolton, wrote Chuck Cooper, had taken part in “many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed.” That, Swan also noted, had prompted a sharp rebuke from a White House official:
“Typically, anything that could contain classified information is turned over to the White House for review when an employee departs. … One would hope Bolton has considered that before advertising that he has additional information.”
“It could be that these are notes that the White House has already viewed,” the official added. “But if not, it would mean Bolton deliberately concealed them during his offboarding, which could lead to legal repercussions depending on the contents.”
Aaaaaaaaaand that may be why Bolton needed the court to bless his testimony. He could be more worried about his own legal standing than in helping Trump frustrate the House, which would make sense given the character of his firing two months ago. House Democrats may be missing an emoluments forest for the Ukraine trees, so to speak.
Or maybe Bolton was just venting. He has plenty of reasons to be sore, of course, and to oppose the president’s natural instinct toward non-interventionism. Bolton understood that basic conflict when he took the job, and respects the fact that those policy decisions ultimately rest with the president and not his staff, but that they are still open to question and criticism. The same applies to the president’s appointments, including the use of family members as key advisers. That doesn’t mean Bolton thinks any of this is fodder for impeachment …
… but Cooper’s letter certainly raises the possibility that Bolton does. And this speech’s hint at personal financial gain raises the possibility that Bolton thinks there’s more to know than just Ukraine-Gate.