One notable interaction described by Bolton was a meeting between the two leaders at the G-20 Summit in Osaka last June, where the US President “stunningly” turned the conversation to the upcoming 2020 election.
The former national security adviser said Trump “stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome,” adding that he “would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.”
Bolton said the conversation turned back to the trade deal, and Trump “proposed that for the remaining $350 billion of trade imbalances (by Trump’s arithmetic), the US would not impose tariffs, but he again returned to importuning Xi to buy as many American farm products as China could.”
The allegation that Trump asked the leader of a major US adversary to help him win the next election will reverberate across Washington six months after Trump was impeached on charges he sought help from Ukraine with his reelection bid. Trump openly asked China to investigate his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden last year, and has refused to accept the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to try to help him win.
The claims come as the Trump campaign has tried to make China a central issue of the 2020 election, framing the President as tougher on Beijing than Biden.
The revelation was just one of several that emerged Wednesday from Bolton’s book, titled “In the Room Where it Happened,” which has been subject to a months-long legal battle between the White House and the former national security adviser. The fight escalated Tuesday after the Trump administration went to court to try to claw back Bolton’s earnings for the book and to potentially stop its publication, arguing in a lawsuit that Bolton had breached non-disclosure agreements and was risking national security by exposing classified information.
But the White House’s legal action has done little to stop details from Bolton’s book from becoming public as The New York Times and other media outlets revealed Wednesday that they obtained advanced copies. It’s scheduled for official release next week.
According to the excerpt published in the Journal, after Xi proved amenable to reopening trade discussions, Bolton claimed Trump extolled the Chinese leader as the greatest in that country’s history.
Broadly speaking, Bolton characterized Trump’s interactions with Xi as “adlibbed,” bolstered by personal flattery and driven by political ambition rather than policy.
“Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and US national interests,” Bolton wrote in the excerpt. “Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security. I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.”
Bolton described a litany of China-related matters where Trump subverted the US position based on conversations or gestures for Xi — tariffs, telecommunications, Hong Kong protests, even China’s mass detention of Uyghur Muslims.
“At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do,” Bolton writes. “The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China.”
The US State Department estimates that more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained by the Chinese government in internment camps, where they are reportedly “subjected to torture, cruel and inhumane treatment such as physical and sexual abuse, forced labor, and death.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs “the stain of the century.”
On the massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year, Bolton claimed that Trump said he didn’t “want to get involved,” and, “we have human-rights problems too.” In recent weeks, Trump has announced actions against China for its moves against Hong Kong’s autonomy.
New York Times: Bolton says impeachment probe should have investigated Trump’s actions beyond Ukraine
Specifically, Bolton highlights Trump’s willingness to intervene in criminal investigations “to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” noting cases involving law firms in China and Turkey, the Times said. “The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Bolton writes, according to the Times.
Bolton’s accusation that the House’s impeachment inquiry didn’t go far enough come after he refused to testify before House impeachment investigators last year, threatening a legal battle if he was subpoenaed. Bolton offered to testify during the Senate impeachment trial, but Republicans voted to reject hearing from any witnesses.
Bolton’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, titled “The Scandal of Trump’s China Policy,” paints his former boss as a US President who is overly susceptible to flattery and an administration that “struggled to avoid being sucked into the black hole of U.S.-China trade issues.”
The book excerpt was published after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday, alleging that Bolton’s 500-plus page manuscript was “rife with classified information.” Prosecutors said that Bolton backed out of an ongoing White House vetting process for the book that he’d been obligated to do as a result of the agreements.
“(Bolton) struck a bargain with the United States as a condition of his employment in one of the most sensitive and important national security positions in the United States Government and now wants to renege on that bargain by unilaterally deciding that the prepublication review process is complete and deciding for himself whether classified information should be made public,” prosecutors write.
The legal approach in the case is one of the more extreme attempts in recent years to stop a former Trump adviser from recounting his experience, and the administration’s longshot attempt to stop the book’s publication raises major First Amendment implications.
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