‘Mr. Tough Guy’: Trump delivers vicious takedown of Bolton
President Donald Trump on Wednesday savaged former national security adviser John Bolton one day after unceremoniously dismissing him via Twitter — blasting his hawkish ex-aide’s hard-charging brand of diplomacy and partly blaming him for launching the Iraq War.
In a winding assessment of his tenure atop the White House’s National Security Council, delivered to reporters assembled in the Oval Office, Trump alternated between vicious criticism of Bolton and an insistence that they had maintained a warm working relationship.
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“John is somebody that I actually get along with very well. He made some very big mistakes,” Trump said, repeatedly referencing Bolton’s invocation of a “Libya model” for North Korean denuclearization in April 2018.
“It set us back, and frankly, he wanted to do things not necessarily tougher than me,” Trump said. “You know, John’s known as a tough guy. He’s so tough, he got us into Iraq. That’s tough.”
Trump again claimed later in his remarks that it was he, not Bolton, who at times advocated for a more muscular foreign policy approach, despite Bolton’s perceived proclivity for military intervention and championing of the 2003 invasion of Iraq from within former President George W. Bush’s administration.
“You know, John wasn’t in line with what we were doing, and actually, in some cases, he thought it was too tough what we were doing,” Trump said. “‘Mr. Tough Guy.’ You know, ‘You have to go into Iraq.’ Going into Iraq was something that he felt very strongly about.”
Trump caught much of Washington and seemingly some senior members of his administration off guard on Tuesday when he tweeted the news of Bolton’s exit.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” the president wrote online. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore … I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham on Tuesday backed up the her boss’ story, saying that Bolton and Trump met in the Oval Office on Monday night before the president left for a rally in North Carolina. It was then that Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation, she said.
But Bolton offered a different account in his own tweet posted shortly after Trump’s messages on Tuesday: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”
Trump stuck to his version of events on Wednesday, recounting that “John came to see me the night before” his ouster and pointing to the chair in the Oval Office where Bolton allegedly sat.
“I told him, ‘John, you have too many people — you’re not getting along with people, and a lot of us, including me, disagree with some of your tactics and some of your ideas. And I wish you well, but I’d like you to submit your resignation,’” Trump said.
Bolton’s departure followed reports that he had been largely sidelined from White House deliberations aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, and had objected to a planned round of peace talks at Camp David with leaders of the Afghan Taliban.
“That was my decision, and what we’re doing now is my decision. So we have a lot of great people who want that position,” Trump said Wednesday in reference to Bolton’s role, which — like the positions of Homeland Security secretary, national intelligence director and White House chief of staff — will be filled by an acting official.
“I have five people that want it very much. I mean, a lot more than that would like to have it,” Trump said of the candidates to become his administration’s fourth national security adviser. “But there are five people that I consider very highly qualified, good people I’ve gotten to know over the last three years, and we’ll be announcing somebody next week.”