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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Opinion: The right title for Bolton’s book

Samantha Vinograd writes that a better title for former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened” would add, “As I Stood By.” Rather than absolve Bolton of responsibility, the book shows he put national security at stake by not taking a stand when he could.
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Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She is a senior adviser at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute, which is not affiliated with the Biden campaign. Vinograd served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council from 2009 to 2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her on Twitter @sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)Most stories — movies, novels, even historical accounts — have a protagonist. But the story of Ambassador John Bolton‘s book release — not to mention the revelations in the book itself — will sadly just include a lot of bad American apples.

If Bolton were actually being honest, he would have given the book its right title: “The Room where it happened — and where I stood by.” As excerpts from the have book dripped out over the last few days and Bolton began his media spree to hype up the book, he left out one key theme: His own complicity. Bolton served the President for nearly a year and a half — a President who he said in a recent interview with ABC that “rarely read much” and only receives the President’s Daily Brief one to two times a week. He served the President who he also said didn’t see making any decisions where getting re-elected “wasn’t the major factor.” He served in a White House where, according to the same ABC interview, Jared Kushner was the second most powerful person in the White House: Jared Kushner – the guy whose security clearance was denied until Trump trumped the process.
And according to the book, Bolton learned about a litany of unethical, dangerous, and potentially criminal behavior — yet he stayed in the administration. The content he’s dropped in the book and his ABC interview all have a common thread: They involve issues that he was directly responsible for like China, Ukraine, human rights, and more. By his own account, Trump was destroying our national security while he served as national security adviser.

And yet, Bolton stuck around for a year and a half. He says he tried to inform the President from time to time and told Trump not to be foolhardy about Kim Jong Un’s intentions, for example, (at which point Trump accused Bolton of having a lot of “hostility”). But Bolton didn’t bend himself out of shape, he even says he said promising things about Trump and Kim even though he didn’t really believe in what was saying.

In other words, Bolton was complicit. That’s why with every revelation, Bolton is digging himself into a deeper hole. If he was trying to write his redemption song, it is way off tune.

Plus, after leaving the administration (Bolton says he resigned, Trump says he was fired), he failed to testify about the President’s behavior and failed to otherwise speak up publicly — until book sales were on the table. Bolton shares at least one trait with Trump: A desire to profit off of the presidency and to blame Democrats for any of his own failures. Bolton told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz that he didn’t testify in the impeachment trial, for example, because of the way House Democrats ran the impeachment process.
More recently, his actions during the run up to the book’s release are problematic. As Judge Royce Lambeth wrote on Friday — Bolton “likely jeopardized national security” by disclosing classified information. In rushing to publish the book, Bolton “opted out” of the pre-publication review process which he was legally required to abide by.
And, he’s still willing to shirk his democratic duties. In his ABC interview, he said that Trump poses “a danger to the republic” — which would only be compounded by reelection. He told The Telegraph in an interview that he won’t vote for Trump in November, which then prompted his spokesperson to clarify that Bolton won’t vote for Biden either. So while he’s trying to sell books off of his characterization of Trump as unfit, he is still unwilling to actually take democratic steps to remove him from office.
This is where multitasking unfortunately has to come in, because Bolton is not the only taxpayer funded administration official who may have damaged our national security during a book bonanza. Bolton is reportedly “questioning the motives of intelligence officers” involved in the pre-publication review process of his book because of officials’ mixed messages and what Bolton ostensibly found to be their slow rolling of the review process. Bolton backed that up on Sunday night by saying that during the book’s review process, which lagged for several weeks, Trump had said he didn’t want the book published before the election.
Based on the administration’s track record to date, his allegations don’t come out of left field. The Trump team has used classification and redactions as PR tools, including that help Trump’s personal narratives, redacting damaging content, moving call transcripts to codeword servers, and more. While Bolton could have sued the administration rather than choosing to release a book with potentially classified information and to break his NDAs with the government, members of the administration may have tried to abuse their power to censor damaging content about the President.
And in writing this Bolton book report, the synopsis is sadly unsurprising to anyone who’s been awake these last four years: President Trump is a live threat to our national security. Bolton’s revelations only add more color to what we already know about Trump cozying up to despots and intervening in our justice system to help his friends out. Bolton alleges, for example, that Trump wanted to intervene in an Iran sanctions case against a Turkish bank because Erdogan asked him to. We already know Trump likes to cozy up to despots like Erdogan and Kim Jong Un (Bolton told Raddatz that Kim Jong Un gets a laugh out of Trump’s desire to bromance with him and said Trump was focused on the photo op opportunity associated with their summit). And we already know that Trump isn’t afraid to dive into ongoing cases to help his friends. Bolton writing that Trump issued a statement giving Saudi Arabia a free pass on Khashoggi’s murder to distract attention from Ivanka’s emails just fits with Trump’s ongoing strategy to drop bombshells in the media to distract attention from personal woes.
Reading that Trump told Chinese President Xi that he was pro-concentration camps for Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority in China, is horrifying, but Trump trashes human rights everywhere including here at home — not to mention his travel ban against Muslims. And, when it comes to foreign election interference, we already know that Trump is open for business. Last year, he said he was open to receiving foreign dirt on a political rival, so Bolton’s allegation that Trump solicited foreign election interference from China comes as no surprise.
Bolton may have thought he was dropping bombshells with this book and his media blitz, but saying that Putin thinks he can “play (Trump) like a fiddle,” and that Trump was “desperate” to meet with Putin isn’t earth shattering — we’ve seen it play out repeatedly and publicly since Trump took office. Bolton also noted that various world leaders have “mastered the art of ringing his bells” — translation: Trump’s an easy asset to manipulate. But again — who’s surprised? Trump’s an open book about how to push him around. You just have to look at his Twitter feed to know how to push his buttons.
We don’t know if Bolton’s revelations would have made a difference during the impeachment trial — especially his reportedly first hand evidence that Trump linked US assistance to Ukraine with his demand that Ukraine publicly announce investigations into the Biden family or Bolton’s confirmation of other impeachment witnesses’ accounts. And, if past is prologue, his revelations will likely do little in terms of swaying Republican lawmakers’ minds and leading them to hold Trump accountable.

The big question associated with Bolton’s book is then, so what?

Republicans in Congress are not going to make holding Trump accountable possible. So, the only accountability will be at the ballot box when voters decide whether Trump is indeed “unfit” when they go to the polls in November. In the interim, however, the damage to our national security is already done.

POTUS fighting with his former national security adviser isn’t a strong vote of confidence in the credibility of the US government — not to mention the fact that Trump is hitting a double by appointing national security advisers who arguably directly undermine US national security through his inaction. And second, the content of the book further undermines any legitimacy of the US as a global leader. The President solicits election interference, views our justice system as his personal vendetta machine, is pro-concentration camps and anti-human rights, to name just a few causes for concern. While Bolton may not see any profits from his book, it is payday for Putin and our other enemies.

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