Former President Jimmy Carter criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to appoint John Bolton as his national security adviser, telling the PBS NewsHour in an interview Monday that it was Mr. Trump’s “worst mistake” since taking office.
Bolton, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, “has been very eager to go to war with different people including North Korea and Iran,” Mr. Carter told NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.
Trump announced last week that Bolton would take over for national security adviser H.R. McMaster in April. The shakeup followed Trump’s decision earlier this month to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo must be confirmed by the Senate to lead the State Department; Bolton’s appointment does not require Senate confirmation. Trump’s nomination to replace Pompeo, Gina Haspel, will also requires Senate confirmation. The deputy CIA director, a 30-year veteran of the agency, will likely be questioned during her hearings for her role in enhanced interrogation techniques and destroying tapes of those tactics.
Democrats have warned that Bolton and Pompeo’s ascension marks a sharp turn to the right in U.S. foreign policy. Carter joined the chorus of critics, saying that he was skeptical the U.S. could convince North Korea to give up its nuclear program with Bolton in a top White House post. “I just have very little confidence in him,” Carter said of Bolton.
Carter said he believed the U.S. was on a path to “nuclear confrontation” with North Korea, and warned that Trump “doesn’t realize the threat that he faces” if the two nations go to war. Carter added that “the North Korean issue may be the most difficult we face at this point.”
Trump agreed earlier this month to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un sometime in May, though a date has not officially been set. Carter said he offered to help Trump resolve the issue, including flying to North Korea to help broker an agreement. The former president said he has been briefed on North Korea by Trump administration officials but didn’t say if his offer had been accepted.
Carter, who is now 93, has remained active on the world stage and met with foreign leaders since leaving the White House in 1981. He visited North Korea in 2011 as part of an effort to calm tensions between North and South Korea. The former president also visited in 1994 and 2010.
READ MORE: What John Bolton could mean for Trump’s foreign policy
In the NewsHour interview, Carter also criticized Trump’s threats to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, as well as the president’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, calling that a “step in the wrong direction.”
Carter also touched on Trump’s turbulent history with women. Over the weekend, the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, spoke out publicly about her alleged affair with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the affair, and accusations by other women of sexual misconduct in the past, but Daniels’ interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” breathed fresh life into the controversy.
Carter called Trump’s alleged past behavior “regrettable,” but said he didn’t think it would cause Trump to lose support with his base. “President Trump’s solid base of support is going to be unshaken by it,” Carter said. The same might not be true of moderate voters, however, Carter said.
“I think for some of the marginal voters, that might sway the election toward Democrats in 2018,” Carter said, adding that Trump’s history with women might be a “major factor” in the midterms.
Carter is back in the spotlight after finishing his 32nd book, “Faith: A Journey for All,” which comes out Tuesday. Carter said the book explores his religious faith and concerns over issues like political polarization, the influence of money in politics and global warming.
It’s more of a “philosophical book than anything I’ve ever written before. It kind of encapsulates my attitude towards peace and human rights,” Carter said.
Carter said his faith also helped him through his cancer diagnosis in August 2015. Carter was initially given weeks to live after doctors discovered that four spots of cancer had spread to his brain. But Carter underwent treatment and announced months later that his cancer had disappeared.
Watch the full interview between former President Jimmy Carter and PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff on Tuesday night.
Daniel Bush is PBS NewsHour's Senior Political Reporter.
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