Graeme Wood: Will John Bolton bring on armageddon—or stave it off?
And Bolton doesn’t have many friends outside the White House, either. He seems to be doing his best to present himself as a principled whistleblower going head-to-head with a White House trampling his rights. But his welcome within anti-Trump circles has been decidedly frosty. Democratic Representative Mike Quigley, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested to Politico that anyone who wants to see what Bolton has to say should borrow his book from the library, rather than give the former national security adviser any money. Clicking on any of #JohnBolton’s recent tweets, meanwhile, reveals a cascade of replies calling him a coward and accusing him of selling out his country for book profits.
Trump critics have a lot of reasons to be skeptical, even dismissive, of Bolton. The most important is that the longtime conservative foreign-policy analyst missed the moment when people actually wanted to hear from him on the subject of Donald Trump and his leadership. It wasn’t that long ago—late last year and early this year—that many people were desperate to hear from Bolton. The impeachment was under way, and he had relevant information about the president’s engagements with the Ukrainian government. It was he, remember, who famously called the attempts to get Ukraine to announce investigations of the Bidens a “drug deal.” And multiple members of Bolton’s staff testified before the House impeachment inquiry.
But Bolton declined to testify before the House, ostensibly in deference to the executive branch’s confidentialities. The House impeachment investigators decided to proceed without hearing from him.
Bolton apparently had a change of heart, however, when the matter came to trial in the Senate. Then he announced that he would appear if called as a witness—only to discover that the Senate Republicans didn’t want to hear from him. How exactly those sacred confidentialities of executive privilege melted away, he never quite explained.
In any event, they appear to have completely evaporated before Bolton’s desire to tell his story in the form of a nearly 600-page book, which now promises to deliver a “precise rendering of his days in and around the Oval Office,” one based on his “almost daily access to the President.”
Many people believe that Bolton’s change of tune is all about selling books. The lawyer and prominent Trump critic George Conway, by contrast, argues plausibly that Bolton wanted to be forced to testify and grossly overestimated the desire of Senate Republicans to hold a fair trial. Whatever the explanation, his conduct has not shrouded him in glory.
As another anti-Trump conservative, Bill Kristol—who, for many years before the Trump administration, had been an ally of Bolton’s in advocating a hawkish foreign policy—put it in a recent conversation, Bolton “had people who worked directly for him who testified … utterly honestly and honorably … before the Congress during the impeachment ... And not only did he not testify himself, he didn’t even defend them when Trump smeared them.” This behavior, in Kristol’s view, was “dishonorable.”