John Bolton told ABC News on Sunday that he won't vote for his former boss, whom he is expected to describe in scathing terms in a new memoir

By Sean Neumann
June 22, 2020 06:29 PM
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President Donald Trump (left) and former National Security Advisor John Bolton at the White house on Aug. 20, 2019.
Alex Wong/Getty

John Bolton, who President Donald Trump handpicked to be his national security adviser before ousting him last September, said this weekend that he won't vote for Trump in the 2020 election.

Bolton, 71, has gone from one of Trump's top allies to one of the president's most prominent critics ahead of the November election, as Bolton is set to release a scathing new tell-all book this week about his 18 months in the Trump White House.

In an interview Sunday night with ABC News, Bolton said he hopes Trump will only be remembered as a one-term president and added that, in his view, the sake of the country may depend on the 2020 election.

"We can get over one term — I have absolute confidence, even if it's not the miracle of a conservative Republican being elected in November," Bolton said. "Two terms, I'm more troubled about."

His book, The Room Where It Happened, is expected to be a damning first-hand account of Trump's presidency and foreign policy, though the administration unsuccessfully tried to block its release, saying it might compromise national security.

The book has already become Amazon's top seller ahead of its release this week.

In his book, The New York Times reports that Bolton accuses Trump, 74, of pressuring other international leaders for political favors — similarly to his actions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which led to Trump's impeachment last December.

Bolton's memoir gives a "withering portrait of a president ignorant of even basic facts about the world, susceptible to transparent flattery by authoritarian leaders manipulating him and prone to false statements, foul-mouthed eruptions and snap decisions that aides try to manage or reverse," according to the Times.

On Monday, the president derided Bolton on Twitter as a "wacko" who "turned out to be grossly incompetent, and a liar."

President Donald Trump (left) and former National Security Advisor John Bolton together at a NATO summit in Brussels on July 12, 2018.
Sean Gallup/Getty

Bolton's book comes out Tuesday, despite the White House making a last-minute push last week to block its release by claiming that Bolton, who was Trump's longest-serving national security adviser, had included sensitive national security information within the memoir.

However, the White House had worked with Bolton for months on editing and removing certain passages to ensure that no risky national security information was published, according to both Bolton and the U.S. Department of Justice, who had tried to halt the book's distribution.

The DOJ filed a 27-page civil lawsuit against Bolton last week, citing national security concerns.

However, according to both the DOJ lawsuit and Bolton's attorney, a National Security Council official gave the "OK" for Bolton's book to be published in late April before Robert O’Brien, who Trump appointed as Bolton's replacement in September 2019, directly called for the review process to be reopened.

A federal judge ruled against the Justice Department's lawsuit on Saturday, according to CNN, meaning Bolton's book will be published as scheduled.

Bolton told ABC News that he expected a "volcanic" reaction from the Trump administration over his book.

"It's typical of the Trump administration that when faced with criticism, they don't deal with the substance of the criticism, they attack the person, which I fully expect and doesn't surprise me," Bolton said Sunday.

Last week, members of the Trump administration — including the president — lashed out at Bolton over his tell-all.

Trump did not respond last week when a reporter asked him why he continued to hire "wackos" — according to the president's view — to fulfill top posts within his government.

Elsewhere, Trump aides attacked Bolton's credibility and decision to publish the book while Trump was still president.

"It's kind of remarkable to have a book be published while people are still in office," Kellyanne Conway told reporters last week.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Bolton's authorship was "inexcusable" and "unacceptable."

"This book is full of classified information," she claimed during a White House press briefing Wednesday, saying the Justice Department didn't believe Bolton went through a complete vetting process to clear the book of sensitive security info.

However, Bolton and his attorney, Charles Cooper, have strongly disputed that claim.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Cooper alleged the White House's effort was "a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import."

From left: Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, President Donald Trump and former National Security Advisor John Bolton together in Canada on June 9, 2018.
Leon Neal/Getty

The DOJ lawsuit that was filed last Tuesday — and initially rejected by a federal judge, though it's still pending — stated that its purpose was to "prevent" Bolton "from compromising national security by publishing a book containing classified information."

However, the filing "is nothing more than the latest in a long running series of efforts by the Administration to quash publication of a book it deems unflattering to the President," Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for publisher Simon & Schuster, said in a statement.

"Ambassador Bolton has worked in full cooperation with the [National Security Council] in its pre-publication review to address its concerns and Simon & Schuster fully supports his First Amendment right to tell the story of his time in the White House to the American public," Rothberg said.

After the judge's Saturday ruling, he said: "We are grateful that the Court has vindicated the strong First Amendment protections against censorship and prior restraint of publication."

The original manuscript for Bolton's book was first given to the National Security Council on Dec. 30, according to both Cooper and the Justice Department's lawsuit.

“What followed was perhaps the most extensive and intensive prepublication review in NSC history,” Cooper wrote in his op-ed in the Journal.

Bolton worked with National Security Council official Ellen Knight during the four-month long prepublication review process, Bolton and the DOJ both said.

“Mr. Bolton and Ms. Knight spent almost four months going through the nearly 500-page manuscript four times, often line by line," Cooper wrote.

The Justice Department's lawsuit reflected that Bolton worked with Knight from late December through late April, making changes to the text in accordance with Knight's guidance on what's classified information that can't be published and what's not.

The DOJ lawsuit claimed Bolton became "dissatisfied at the pace" of the process.

"Rather than wait for the process to conclude, [Bolton] decided to take matters into his own hands," the DOJ lawsuit argued.

Bolton tweeted a Washington Post op-ed last Wednesday which criticized the Trump administration's "effort to hide this book."

The DOJ lawsuit confirmed that "on or around April 27, 2020, Ms. Knight had completed her review and was of the judgment that the manuscript draft did not contain classified information," however the pre-publication process was reopened after Knight had cleared it of any national security concerns.

The DOJ civil suit said that Michael Ellis, the senior director for intelligence for the National Security Council, re-reviewed Bolton's book after Knight already had and noted that he "was concerned that the manuscript still appeared to contain classified information" due to the Trump administration still being in office — echoing the White House's recent arguments.

Ellis conducted the extra review at the request of Robert O’Brien, who Trump named as Bolton's replacement in September, the Justice Department's lawsuit said.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department told PEOPLE that the DOJ has no further comment beyond what was included in its suit.

Speaking with ABC News, Bolton said he believed Trump's biggest concern was staying in the Oval Office and that his book threatened Trump's approval rating by providing a damning front-row seat to his presidency.

"The president isn't worried about foreign governments reading this book. He's worried about the American people reading this book," Bolton told ABC News, adding, "The people of the country need to hear the reality."