It’s John Bolton’s turn

So now it’s John Bolton who, in the name of defending President Trump, is to be demonized by conservatives. Some conservatives will find the task an easy one. Bolton is a foreign policy/national security hawk. Many conservatives have become rather dovish.

But many other conservatives have continued to admire, or at least respect, Bolton. We like his hard line stance against America’s worst enemies, especially Iran.

Bolton has plenty of company under the Trump bus. Some of it is good company.

Jeff Sessions was a conservative hero of longstanding. But he fell out of favor for the sin of meeting his ethical obligations as Attorney General and declining, in his capacity as AG, to act as Trump’s consigliere.

After his dismissal, Sessions declined to say anything adverse to Trump’s interests. Sessions is a gracious man and he wanted to return to the Senate.

Bolton, by most accounts, isn’t gracious and he has no intention of running for office. Thus, he felt no need to hold back when writing about the Trump administration. But that doesn’t mean he deserves to be demonized.

He does deserve to be demonized if he has written falsely about Trump. However, there is no reason to believe that what he has written about Trump’s Ukraine policy, or what Trump told him about it, is false. Anyone who has taken the trouble to review the record with even a half-open mind should conclude that Trump’s policy was, as Bolton says Trump told him, to withhold aid to Ukraine for the purpose of inducing that country’s government to investigate the Bidens (or at least announce that it would do so).

Nor is there any reason to believe that Bolton was okay with Trump’s policy until Trump fired him — though even if this were the case, it wouldn’t show that the policy was other than what Bolton described. Fiona Hill, who worked closely with Bolton at the White House, testified that Bolton analogized the effort to induce Ukraine to investigate the Bidens to a “drug deal.” Obviously, he was disgusted by it before Trump sacked him. (Bolton’s August statement that Trump and Ukraine’s president had cordial phone conversations is not at all inconsistent with Bolton’s account of what Trump told him about his Ukraine policy).

Does Bolton deserve to be demonized for writing a book about his time at the White House while Trump is still president, and in his first term? There was a time when ex-staffers and officials didn’t do this. However, it’s common practice now.

It’s also standard practice in this genre to report what the president said to the author about important issues. Indeed, this is the most valuable information an ex-White House staffer or ex-Cabinet member can provide. (I’m not aware of any evidence that these kinds of reports have prevented presidents and their advisers from speaking candidly to one another.)

The more “hot button” the subject of an insider report, the more valuable the report. The question of whether there was a quid pro quo relationship between the release of aid to Ukraine and a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens is both disputed and (to say the least) of interest.

It may be that, although the public has a strong interest in knowing what Trump said to Bolton about the matter, Bolton is not permitted to publish a book containing this information. If Bolton has violated any law, he deserves to be criticized and punished for it. If, going forward, he violates any law, he will deserve to be criticized and punished.

However, absent a showing that Bolton has violated the law, I see no reason to criticize Bolton, much less to demonize him. Assuming no such violation, and assuming he has written truthfully, Bolton has done the public a service by providing information about a matter President Trump chose (unnecessarily because he has other, better defenses against impeachment) to dispute — a matter that, presumably, will still be in dispute when the book is published.

Finally, I want to comment on what Trump said about Bolton. The president tweeted:

For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, “begged” me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying “Don’t do it, sir,” takes the job, mistakenly says “Libyan Model” on T.V., and many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?

My question is: Who would appoint such a man to be his national security advisor? Fortunately, Trump has presented a caricature of Bolton, not a true picture. Otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that, against the advice of his counselors, Trump appointed a known warmonger with terrible judgment to this crucial position for no better reason than that Bolton begged him to.

Even though we’re not forced to reach this conclusion, we must still ask why Trump has selected for top positions so many people whom he later found seriously wanting. Either Trump is a very poor judge of talent and character or he’s one unlucky president.

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