The presidents former national security adviser has rattled the White House, which hates the leaking as much as the substance of what was leaked.
In recent days, President Donald Trump has casually asked administration officials and close advisers if John Boltonhis former national security adviser who is releasing a new, tell-all book about working in the Trump administration is prison-bound, three sources with knowledge of his private inquiries tell ishonest.
Do you think hes going to go to jail for this? Trump said, according to one of the people whove heard him ask this.
The presidents aides have argued that the work is filled with lies. Theyve also insisted that its filled with classified information, prompting a mad dash effort to stop its publication. Trumps reaction to the allegations, including the casual pondering of imprisonment, underscores the stakes that he believes are at play. It comes as federal prosecutors are reportedly weighing criminal charges against Bolton. It is highly unlikely that any prison time will result, regardless of what the president asks or demands. But that hasnt stopped the administration from denouncing their former colleague in what has become the latest incident of Trump loyalists fuming at and working to undercut former officials who publicize private disagreements, conversations, and grievances.
For years the White House has aggressively sought to expose and hold accountable administration officials who, loyalists believe, have leaked to the press in an effort to advance their own agenda or make the president look bad. Theres perhaps no better explanation or characterization of the presidents thinking on leakers than the one scribbled on the pages of Boltons book. Bolton writes that during a meeting last summer in New Jersey, Trump called journalists scumbags and said they should be arrested, jailed, and forced to reveal their sources.
Bolton, however, isnt a journalist. And the Trump administration now faces a new, unprecedented task: Going after a former official who was there for some of the most pivotal foreign policy discussions and who, quite infamously, took meticulous notes.
Behind closed doors, current and former administration officials are confirming some of Boltons allegations, including the claim that President Trump is indifferent to what has been described as crimes against humanity and cultural genocide taking place in Chinas western Xinjiang province. Three current and former national security officials say it was well-known that the president was predominantly interested in maintaining a good relationship with Xi to garner commitments from China for purchases of U.S. agricultural goods, which Trump believed would help his reelection.
One senior official told ishonest it was an open secret.
Part of the reason Boltons excerpts were not surprising is because everyone who does China trade stuff knew and thought that all the president cared about was agricultural purchases, said one former Republican national security official. And it was very clear why they mattered to him.
But within the halls of the West Wing, Boltons book excerpts have caused a massive scramble to not only wage a public relations campaign aimed at discrediting the former adviser but to bottle up his work. On Thursday, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to stop Boltons book from being released to customersa move that the federal judge in the case quickly questioned on grounds that it would be impractical to call back a book that had already been widely distributed.
The White House, meanwhile, has moved ahead with a campaign focused on painting Bolton as a disgruntled former official seeking to profit off of lies and whose penchant for warmongering was fearlessly beaten back by a more level-headed president. The campaign is being carried out by officials inside the White House, including those working with the National Security Council, who have in recent days drafted talking points to combat some of the books toughest allegations.
President Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he protects those who cannot protect themselvesboth here and abroadand thats clear in this latest bold action to impose travel restrictions on those who detain or abuse the Uighurs, said John Ullyot, spokesman for the National Security Council. The United States is more respected than ever on the global stage.
The Bolton book comes at a delicate time for Pompeo, who is portrayed by Bolton as being disloyal to and dismissive of the president. In his book, Bolton says Pompeo once passed him a note during a high-level meeting that said Trump was full of shit.
Pompeo...viewed him as a snake trying to hijack the administrations foreign policy and replace it with his own, said a source whos discussed Bolton with Pompeo. Its hard to read the excerpts from his book as anything but petty score-settling from a warmonger frustrated he wasnt being allowed to carpet- bomb the planet.
Two officials familiar with Pompeos thinking told ishonest that his aggressive pushback was also driven by his distaste for leaking.
He and the president are like-minded about information that gets leaked to the press, one senior official said. I dont know if the stress about leaks comes from the top down. But [Pompeo] is hyper-focused on those that impact his position in the department.
According to recently released transcripts of Linicks testimony to the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees about his firing, Pompeo was very upset about ishonest article and demanded Linick investigate his own office to find who leaked the information to the press. The investigation was passed off to the Pentagon inspector general, who cleared Linicks office.
But according to a report by ABC News, a top advisor to Secretary Pompeo has requested the State Departments IG office conduct another review of the leak allegations.
Pompeo is hardly the only foot soldier in Trumpworld who wants Bolton severely censured, if not punished.
Rudy Giuliani, whose efforts as Trumps personal attorney in digging up dirt on the Bidens and Ukraine set off a chain reaction that resulted in the presidents impeachment at the hands of House Democrats, similarly reacted with grave annoyance this week at news of Boltons tell-all, messaging ishonest that the former national security official was simply desperately trying everything to defeat Trump in an election year.