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Trump pick John Bolton has history of clashing with U.S. intelligence community

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton will become the third national security adviser since President Trump took office, taking over for Army Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster. Bolton is a longtime hawk on foreign policy who has served Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan, and has held Trump's ear as a commentator on FOX News. Judy Woodruff learns more from Jonathan Landay of Reuters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The revolving door at the Trump White House has turned again. This time, it ushered in President Trump's third national security adviser in 14 months, the latest addition to a hawkish new lineup.

    The president left the White House late this afternoon for a weekend in Florida, with nothing more to say about the latest shakeup in his national security team. As of April 9, H.R. McMaster is out as national security adviser. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton is in.

  • John Bolton:

    It's always an honor to serve our country, and I think particularly in these times internationally, it's a particular honor. So I'm still sort of getting used to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bolton becomes the third person in the post since President Trump took office. The first choice, Michael Flynn, resigned just over three weeks after the inauguration over revelations that he had lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

    Army Lieutenant General McMaster took over, but clashed with the president, who reportedly complained about being lectured to in lengthy briefings. McMaster even drew a public presidential rebuke last month, after he said there was incontrovertible proof that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

    Still, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insisted only a week ago that he wasn't going anywhere.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    General McMaster is a dedicated public servant, and he is here, not focused on the news stories that many of you are writing, but on some really big issues, things like North Korea, things like Russia, things like Iran.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Then came Thursday evening's presidential tweet announcing McMaster's ouster. In it, Mr. Trump said the general — quote — "has done an outstanding job and will always remain my friend."

    McMaster, in turn, issued a statement saying he now plans to retire from the Army, and thanking the president for the opportunity to serve.

    His successor is a longtime hawk on foreign policy who has served Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan, and has held President Trump's ear as a commentator on FOX News. John Bolton was undersecretary of state for arms control under President George W. Bush, and advocated for the invasion of Iraq. He later served as ambassador to the United Nations, but only temporarily, as the Senate fused to confirm his nomination.

    More recently, he has argued for preemptive strikes against North Korea.

  • John Bolton:

    More diplomacy with North Korea, more sanctions, whether against North Korea, or an effort to apply sanctions against China, is just giving North Korea more time to increase its nuclear arsenal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bolton also called for bombing Iran back in 2015, when the Obama administration was negotiating the nuclear agreement. Since then, he has echoed Mr. Trump's desire to tear up the nuclear deal.

  • John Bolton:

    I think the deal is inherently flawed. I think it's a strategic debacle for the United States. You can always tinker around the edges. The question is whether putting lipstick on a pig is really going to make a difference here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In addition, Bolton has at times shared the president's skepticism about whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election. He once suggested the hack of e-mails at the Democratic National Committee might have been staged, not by the Russians, but by the Obama administration.

  • John Bolton:

    It's not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers wasn't a false flag operation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bolton later walked back those comments, and has often been a vocal critic of Russia. but he also appeared in a 2013 video for a Russian pro-gun group supported by the NRA.

    On economic policy, he applauded the president's imposition of new tariffs on China. His arrival comes just days after the president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and named the more conservative CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him. In addition, the president's chief economic adviser and communications director announced this month that they are leaving the White House.

    For more on John Bolton's career and his views, I'm joined now by Jonathan Landay of Reuters. He covered Bolton's tenure at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration and the run-up to the Iraq War.

    Jonathan Landay, thank you for being with us.

    So tell us more about, who is John Bolton?

  • Jonathan Landay:

    John Bolton is a hawk. He espouses pretty belligerent views, and he has a history of being at odds with the U.S. intelligence community, which exists to this day, where he has written about a significant violations by Iran in the Iran nuclear deal, whereas the man he's going to be working with, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, last month cold Congress that Iran is abiding by the deal and the deal in fact is working.

    Mr. Bolton had several clashes over U.S. intelligence where he was found to be exaggerating this intelligence, one of the incidents back in 2002, where he made a speech about Cuba having what he said was developing an offensive biological warfare program, was disputed by two U.S. intelligence analysts, one at the State Department, one at the CIA.

    Both men and their bosses say that Mr. Bolton tried to have them fired because of their arguments with him over the intelligence — his interpretation of the intelligence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How did his relationship with the intelligence community affect the role that he played in the run-up to the invasion, the war in Iraq?

  • Jonathan Landay:

    Well, Mr. Bolton was a major proponent of the invasion of Iraq for — because, you know — supporting the Bush administration's contention that the late dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

    That case was based on bogus and exaggerated intelligence, something I did extensive reporting with my reporting partner, Warren Strobel. But Mr. Bolton supported that case. And at one point, when he was up for being confirmed, his confirmation hearings, as U.N. ambassador, which he was never confirmed for, he was — I believe there was a written questionnaire where he was asked if he had ever been investigated while at the State Department.

    He said no, but it later emerged that, in fact, he was questioned by the State Department's inspector general's office about the sources of intelligence that the Bush administration used for its case to invade Iraq.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two other quick things I want to ask you, Jonathan Landay. One has to do with arms control. How has he dealt with arms control issues? We know that could well be an issue in the next year or so.

  • Jonathan Landay:

    Absolutely.

    Mr. Bolton has been a fairly strident opponent of many arms control agreements. And, in particular, while he worked in the Bush administration as the top arms control official at the State Department, he was one of the people who honchoed the Bush administration, the United States' withdrawal of the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The last thing I want to ask is about what happened 10 years ago when he — George W. Bush nominated him to be the ambassador of the U.N.

    Very unusual, the Republican majority, Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Relations Committee, in the Senate refused to confirm him, and there were a number — there was a lot of testimony about John Bolton. Just in a nutshell, what happened?

  • Jonathan Landay:

    Well, there was a lot — some of these cases that I just brought up came up. There was also allegations that he went after a former USAID contractor, a woman, at a hotel in Moscow in terms of harassing her over a dispute, a business dispute, while he was out of U.S. government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You don't mean a sexual harassment…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jonathan Landay:

    No, no, not at all. It was a contractual dispute.

    The committee sent the nomination to the Senate floor, and he wasn't confirmed. He was put in the U.N. ambassador's job in what's known as a recess appointment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Jonathan Landay, a lot to learn, and thank you very much for talking to us.

  • Jonathan Landay:

    My pleasure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We appreciate it.

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