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Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S. February 24, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters.

Bolton slams Trump for prioritizing reelection over pandemic response

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of wasting time in responding to the coronavirus pandemic at the start of the year, arguing that he didn’t want to acknowledge a public health crisis that could hurt his trade posture with China and chances of winning reelection.

In Bolton’s assessment, Trump did not want to listen when U.S. officials began sounding the alarm about a potential pandemic spreading from China, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, he told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.

The president “did not want to hear anything about a negative effect on the economy that might jeopardize his reelection,” alleged Bolton, who stepped down as national security adviser last fall, before the pandemic swept across the globe.

“And I think as a consequence of this empty-chair-in-the-Oval-Office phenomenon, we wasted a lot of time that could have been used to mitigate the effect of the pandemic,” Bolton added.

Nearly 120,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions lost their jobs after the country shut down in mid-March to slow the spread of the virus. The country has seen a spike in new cases since some states began easing restrictions on businesses and activities this spring.

Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President George W. Bush, is back in the spotlight to promote a new memoir, “The Room Where it Happened,” about his stint as national security adviser under Trump from April 2018 until he resigned in September 2019.

Well before the book’s release this month, it was garnering the attention of House Democrats amid their impeachment investigation into the president.

Democrats sought Bolton’s testimony, arguing that information in the book, which had not yet been published, would shed light on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Bolton refused a request that he testify, and was never subpoenaed by House Democrats in the lead-up to the Senate impeachment trial, where Trump was acquitted on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In the NewsHour interview, Bolton defended his decision not to testify, arguing that his criticism of Trump’s foreign policy dealings, as laid out in the book, would not have swayed congressional Republicans who ultimately acquitted him.

“Whatever I had to say would have just been lost in the turmoil” of the impeachment process, Bolton said.

The former national security adviser argued that House Democrats botched the investigation, calling it a “massive failure” carried out on a rushed political timetable so as not to interfere with the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race.

House Democrats wrapped up the hearings and approved both articles of impeachment against Trump in late December. The Senate trial started in mid-January and lasted three weeks, ending two days after the Iowa Democratic Caucuses.

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