The White House fired back at John Bolton on Sunday, seeking to rubbish a key claim in the former national security adviser’s bombshell new book, that Donald Trump asked Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, for help in winning re-election.
“I never heard that,” trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Sunday morning, echoing remarks by US trade representative Robert Lighthizer. “I was in the room.”
Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, is based on notes taken in a series of rooms during Bolton’s spell as Trump’s third national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019.
“I hate the title of that book,” Navarro said. “But I was in those rooms too.”
Trump also rubbished Bolton’s claim in an interview with Axios recorded on Friday and released on Sunday evening.
“Remember,” the president said, “when I’m dealing with [Xi], the whole room is loaded up with people. We’re in a large room with many people in that room. I wouldn’t want to say a thing like that.”
Trump also said he did not “even know if that would be wrong”, but added: “Why would I say a thing like that? And I certainly wouldn’t say it anyway, but I certainly wouldn’t say it in a room full of people.”
Bolton claims Trump’s request was evidence of impeachable conduct similar to but well beyond the president’s approaches to Ukraine, for political dirt on Joe Biden, which eventually landed him in the dock in the Senate.
On Saturday, a judge in Washington declined the administration’s attempt to block publication on Tuesday, but had harsh words for Bolton’s conduct and treatment of sensitive material.
Trump indicated that a civil suit to seize all profits from the book will continue, and hinted at criminal prosecution.
One policy hawk attacking another, Navarro said in a combative appearance on CNN’s State of the Union: “That guy should be turning in his seersucker suit for a jumpsuit.”
He added a prediction that Bolton “will not only not get the profits from that book, but he risks a jail sentence. He has done something that is very, very serious in terms of American national security, and he’s got to pay a price for that.”
Bolton writes that direct quotes from the conversation with Xi were redacted from his book to satisfy its national security review. But Vanity Fair has since reported that during a dinner at a G20 summit in Japan in 2019, Trump told Xi: “Make sure I win. I will probably win anyway, so don’t hurt my farms … Buy a lot of soybeans and wheat and make sure we win.”
Navarro insisted the explosive allegation was “just silly”, because “this president has been the toughest president on China of any American president ever”.
Trump told Axios “What I told everybody we deal with – not just President Xi – I want them to do business with this country. I want them to do a lot more business with this country.
“By the way, what’s good for the country is good for me. What’s good for the country is also good for an election.”
As fallout from the book deepens, Bolton told the ABC he would not vote for Trump at the November election.
“I hope (history) will remember him as a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral we can’t recall from. We can get over one term - I have absolute confidence, even if it’s not the miracle of a conservative Republican being elected in November. Two terms, I’m more troubled about.”
Bolton also writes that Trump expressed approval of Xi’s policy of building concentration camps to detain Uighur and other Muslim minorities, a claim which has proved another lightning rod for controversy.
Trump told Axios he had not sanctioned China over the camps, agreed by world bodies to be a gross human rights abuse, because “we were in the middle of a major trade deal”.
“And I made a great deal,” he said, “$250bn potentially worth of purchases. And by the way, they’re buying a lot, you probably have seen.
“And when you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on – we’ve done a lot. I put tariffs on China, which are far worse than any sanction you can think of.”