Don't Buy John Bolton's Book. But Don't Ignore Its Revelations.
He says Trump cheered Chinese concentration camps.
New York Times, June 19, 2020
The American news cycle has become so manic and surreal that there hasn't been much time to reflect on the revelation, in the new book by the former national security adviser John Bolton, that Donald Trump encouraged President Xi Jinping of China in the building of concentration camps for its Muslim Uighur minority.
Bolton's "The Room Where It Happened," which I received this week in advance of its release on Tuesday, describes a conversation Trump had with Xi at the opening dinner of the Group of 20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, with only their interpreters present: "Xi explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do."
It is impossible, at this late date, to be shocked by the behavior of our depraved president. Nor is it surprising, given Trump's treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, that he is pro-concentration camp.
But Americans should know that China's detention of over a million people largely on religious grounds — a project that reports say includes torture, sterilization and forcing Uighur women to sleep with members of China's Han majority to promote "ethnic unity" — is happening with our president's behind-the-scenes approval. (In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump denied the account in Bolton's book.)
Bolton has presumably known about Trump and Xi's exchange since it happened last year, did not resign over it and decided to say nothing until he could monetize it. That tells you much of what you need to know about his ethics. This is a bad book by a bad person, which nonetheless contains some important revelations. Informants emerging from criminal enterprises, after all, are rarely unblemished.
As has been widely reported, Bolton criticizes the House's impeachment hearings, at which he refused to testify, for being too narrow. Democrats focused, he complains, "solely on the Ukraine aspects of Trump's confusion of his personal interests (whether political or economic)," instead of on the "broader pattern of his behavior." This pattern includes Trump's alleged interventions on behalf of the Chinese telecommunication companies ZTE and Huawei and the Turkish bank Halkbank.
Had Democrats broadened their inquiry, he writes, "there might have been a greater chance to persuade others that 'high crimes and misdemeanors' had been perpetrated."
Obviously, nothing was stopping Bolton from speaking out on these issues then instead of now. After using a reference from "Hamilton" for a title, he again quotes the musical, gallingly, to explain his timing: "I am not throwing away my shot."
There are other places in the book where Bolton inadvertently shows us who he is. Even as he paints a picture of Trump as a dangerous incompetent, he delights in recalling the president's flattery. He describes Trump ending a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron of France by praising Bolton's performance first on Fox News and then in the administration. "Now he's got to make hard decisions, which he didn't have to do on TV, but he's doing a great job," Bolton recalls the president saying.
The French, writes Bolton, "got a kick out of that. So did I for that matter." You can almost hear him purring.
Bolton isn't particularly detailed about the misbehavior he witnessed in Trump's White House. He mentions "Trump's penchant to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked" and lists a number of examples, including the lifting of sanctions on the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, the onetime patron of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. "Whether there was anything even more troubling beneath the surface, none of us knew," he writes.
A few sentences later, he adds, "The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn't accept." (He continued to accept it, though he writes that "resignation territory" was "nearby.")
Some of what Bolton recounts is petty gossip. He believes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the former acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney are major sources of leaks. And he recounts Trump's version of an argument between former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in which Tillerson uses a demeaning sexist obscenity to tell her she's "nothing" more "and don't ever forget it."
All the same, there is information here that deserves whatever attention people can muster in the midst of plague and mass protest. Bolton provides, albeit belatedly, firsthand confirmation that Trump did exactly what he was impeached for — leveraging American military aid in exchange for Ukraine's help in smearing Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden: "Aug. 20, I took Trump's temperature on the Ukraine security assistance, and he said he wasn't in favor of sending them anything until the Russia-investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over," Bolton writes.
Such behavior was nothing new for Trump; earlier Bolton describes him "pleading with Xi" for help in the 2020 election by making agricultural purchases from farm states. Though Bolton writes that the government's pre-publication reviewers prevented him from using Trump's exact words, Vanity Fair saw an unredacted version of the passage: "Make sure I win. I will probably win anyway, so don't hurt my farms. … Buy a lot of soybeans and wheat and make sure we win."
That Bolton did not testify to this earlier is to his immense disgrace. But it is a national disgrace that his confirmation of the Democrats' impeachment case probably won't matter, so inured are Republicans to staggering corruption.
Bolton's warning to his ideological allies should be heeded, though it won't be. Should Trump win in 2020, he writes, "conservatives and Republicans should worry about the removal of the political guardrail of Trump having to face re-election."
Don't buy this book. John Bolton doesn't deserve to be rewarded for withholding testimony he had a duty to provide months ago. But don't dismiss it either. The president cheered China's concentration camps. At this point in the Trump era, it's a constant challenge not to let oneself be bored by evil.
Voices4America Post Script. A judge ruled Bolton's book could be published, but #MichelleGoldberg is right: his revelations are the point. They suggest #QuidProQuo is #TraitorTrump's middle name. #Bolton interview, 1 hour special Sunday, 9 p.m. ET, ABC, with Martha Raddatz