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What Bolton’s book says, and how it affects U.S. standing in the world

Fallout continues from the forthcoming book by John Bolton, a former national security adviser to President Trump. Bolton portrays Trump as corrupt, self-interested and in thrall to authoritarian figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Yamiche Alcindor reports and Nick Schifrin gets reaction from two former ambassadors, Gérard Araud and John Negroponte.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The fallout continues from the book by President Trump's former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

    In a moment, foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin gets reaction from two former diplomats on the damage done to American credibility and standing around the world.

    But, first, White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reports on what's in the book.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A 500-page bombshell denouncing a president who is now playing defense.

    In his forthcoming memoir, former National Security Adviser John Bolton paints a portrait of a corrupt and self-interested commander in chief. In "The Room Where It Happened," Bolton writes that President Trump is ignorant of global affairs and is a reckless decision-maker.

    The most explosive allegation? That President Trump pleaded with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to buy more U.S. farm products from states sympathetic to the president to help him win the 2020 election.

    Today, that brought quick denials.

  • White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany:

  • Kayleigh McEnany:

    That is absolutely untrue. And I would note, no one, no president has been tougher on China than President Trump.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Bolton further claims that President Trump endorsed China's internment of more than a million Uyghur Muslims in detention camps. And again and again, he points to the president's inexperience in the international arena.

    For instance, in an ABC News interview, he highlights President Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • John Bolton:

    I think Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle.

    When you're dealing with somebody like Putin, who has made his life understanding Russia's strategic position in the world, against Donald Trump, who doesn't enjoy reading about these issues or learning about them, it's a very difficult position for America.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But many of Bolton's statements about the president go beyond him being naive, and suggest willful deception.

    Bolton alleges the president defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to distract attention away from a story about first daughter Ivanka's private e-mail use.

    The administration is pushing two counternarratives to Bolton's claims, one, that the book is untrue, and two, that it reveals classified information and cannot legally be published.

    The Department of Justice has requested that a federal judge issue an emergency order to block the release of the book next Tuesday, saying — quote — "The publication and release of 'The Room Where It Happened' would cause irreparable harm because the disclosure of instances of classified information in the manuscript."

    Bolton asserts he is fully complying with the government review of classified information.

    But in a phone interview last night with FOX News, the president attacked his former adviser.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He broke the law, very simple, I mean, as much as it's going to be broken. This is highly classified. That's the highest stage. It's highly classified information. It's highly classified information. And he did not have approval.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats, the allegations hearken back to the impeachment trial earlier this year.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    While I would have preferred Mr. Bolton to have told these stories under oath at the impeachment trial, they're quite illuminating nonetheless.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That trial focused on charges that President Trump withheld critical military aid to Ukraine to pressure Kyiv into investigating presidential challenger Joe Biden's son Hunter.

    Bolton's book accuses the Democrats of — quote — "impeachment malpractice." He says they should have gone further in their charges against President Trump, even though Bolton refused to testify before the House during the inquiry.

    At the time, he said he would only testify to the Senate trial if subpoenaed. He never was. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Bolton put profit over patriotism.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    This is called a con. And we are very proud of what we have done. And it's really a sad thing, because he knew that the president should be removed from office.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As the legal battle for publication continues, the book's publisher, Simon & Schuster, called the government's efforts to stop the book — quote — "frivolous and politically motivated."

    It said hundreds of thousands of copies of "The Room Where It Happened" have already been shipped to stores around the world.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, what impact do John Bolton's revelations have on U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. standing in the world?

    For that, we get two views. Ambassador Gerard Araud was France's ambassador to the United States from 2014 to 2019. And Ambassador John Negroponte was ambassador to the U.N. and Iraq, as well as the first director of national intelligence under George W. Bush.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour" to you both.

    Let me start with you, Ambassador Negroponte. Let me ask that question. What — do John Bolton's revelations have any impact on the ability for the U.S. to conduct foreign policy and the U.S. standing in the world?

  • John Negroponte:

    Well, I think we have known for a long time, I think almost from the outset of the Trump administration, that the president relies too much on his own intuition and on improvisation.

    And, sometimes, one wonders if it isn't even intuition, but just sort of random thoughts that he puts out there. I think John Bolton's book brings to light this serious weakness in our foreign policy, the lack of a system.

    And I think that that has caused us problems in our relationships around the world, particularly in the matter of trust between our allies and ourselves.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Araud, of course, France is the United States' oldest ally. So, how does Europe view this book? And how does it impact, if at all, the transatlantic alliance?

  • Gerard Araud:

    When I was ambassador of Washington, like my European colleagues, we were obliged to see how different is this administration, different from the previous ones, in the sense that everything we were used to in terms of interagency process, in terms of consultations, simply didn't work anymore, didn't exist anymore, that the decision was taken only by one person, the president.

    Very often, when I was meeting high-level officials, I was obliged to conclude that I didn't know what the president was going to say the day after, and I didn't know what meant what he has said the day before.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Negroponte, there long have been critics of the president's process, this administration's process, what they say the lack of process.

    But when I talk to the president's allies, they point out the policy. So, for example, President Trump apparently told Xi Jinping, the president of China, that Muslim Uyghurs could be interned in these camps during a private meeting.

    But the policy is that the Trump administration has sanctioned and put export controls on 33 companies for building those very camps. And that dichotomy holds true especially when it comes to China policy.

    So, does the president's closed-door flattery matter, when the administration's policy is confrontational?

  • John Negroponte:

    Well, I think, first of all, you have got to allow for the possibility that, if the president says that privately, it encourages President Xi Jinping to take even sterner measures against the Uyghur population. So there's that point.

    And, secondly, perhaps he could have helped avoid some pain being inflicted on the Uyghurs if he'd taken more of an advocate position behalf of human rights in China, rather than flattering the — or accommodating President Xi Jinping, as he planned to do.

    So, no, I think it's important to be consistent in your private and public statements. I don't think there's much advantage in saying almost the opposite thing in one setting, as opposed to another.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Araud, similar question to you.

    There's a dichotomy between what the president says about Russia publicly, privately, but the administration says that it's been confrontational against Russia inside of Europe.

    Does that dichotomy matter to you?

  • Gerard Araud:

    Well, you know, I have been in some meetings with President Trump, especially when I was with President Macron.

    And it's a very unusual experience. You don't have in front of you the usual politician, which is sticking to the language, the official line of the language. And it can lead to quite unusual, quite unusual remarks.

    So — and from time to time, you are led to ask questions about the consistency, the coherence of what the president is saying, compared to the U.S. policy, which is a bit strange.

    So, yes, there is a problem of coherence in this administration. And it has been from the very beginning.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Negroponte, the president's allies also say something else to me, which is that it's important the president maintain a good relationship with Xi Jinping, certainly, to a certain extent, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, even as the administration continues that adversarial approach.

    Does that make sense?

  • John Negroponte:

    Well, I think that argument has merit. I think it is important for the president to maintain good relations with the top leaders of the world.

    But there are ways of doing that in diplomacy in a consistent manner with your policy. You don't have to do it in a way that contradicts your policy.

    I remember very well, for example, how George W. Bush maintained a very good relationship with Chinese leaders, all the while pressing them very hard on issues concerning human rights, even to the point of meeting with the Dalai Lama, holding hands with him in public at a congressional Medal of Honor ceremony up on Capitol Hill.

    So, this can be done, but you have to thread that needle of raising these difficult issues, but, at the same time, maintaining a good diplomatic relationship. And it can be done, and it has been done.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Araud, last word to you in the short time we have left.

    Threading the needle, that thin line that Ambassador Negroponte just said, the U.S., you're arguing, is not really threading that needle.

    What is the impact of that, short and long term, on the U.S.-Europe relationship?

  • Gerard Araud:

    Well, I think, for Europeans, I'm convinced that the election of November the 3rd will be maybe the most important election since the election of Roosevelt in 1932, because it's very clear that President Trump will go to the end of his policy.

    And President Trump doesn't care about alliances, doesn't care about the West, doesn't care about the transatlantic league. So, it's very, very clear that, if he is reelected, it will be, for Europeans, a moment when they will have to take decision about their policy, about what are they going to do without actually a real alliance with the United States.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Araud, Ambassador Negroponte, thank you very much to you both.

  • John Negroponte:

    Thank you.

  • Gerard Araud:

    Thank you.

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