Will the claims in John Bolton’s book have an impact?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Former national security adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book contains a long list of scathing accusations against President Trump, according to several news organizations that obtained copies.

In the book, Bolton portrays Trump as a man unfit for the presidency who consistently made decisions based on how they could help his reelection chances rather than what was in the best interest of the country. Accusations by Bolton include Trump asking for election help from Chinese President Xi Jinping, endorsing China’s use of prison camps for Muslims, speaking about executing journalists and a firsthand account of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine that were at the center of the impeachment saga. 

The president called the book “a compilation of lies and made up stories” from a former staffer who was “just trying to get even” for being fired. At the same time, the Trump administration took legal action to block its release over claims that it contains classified information. A federal judge on Saturday ruled in Bolton’s favor.

Bolton became Trump’s third national security adviser in April 2018. Bolton either resigned or was fired, depending on who you ask, in September 2019 after reportedly clashing with the president on a number of foreign policy issues. House Democrats chose not to subpoena Bolton as a witness during their impeachment inquiry, largely over concerns that it would spark a protracted legal battle. Republicans in the Senate declined to seek his testimony as well.

Why there’s debate

The flood of claims made in Bolton’s book has prompted strong reactions across the political spectrum. Trump’s allies have been quick to echo his criticisms of Bolton and have attempted to undercut the claims made in the book. Bolton has also received significant criticism from liberals, who say he put personal profit over the country’s interest by using his claims to sell a book rather than sharing them publicly months ago. 

The accusations could have been especially impactful during the impeachment trial, Democrats argue. Though his testimony may not have compelled GOP senators to remove Trump from office, Bolton could have told his extensive account of the president’s wrongdoing, which may have done severe political damage to Trump, they argue. Sharing his story now — in the midst of a health crisis and a national movement for racial justice — makes the revelations largely irrelevant, some argue. 

Others say that the book could still be impactful, despite Bolton’s apparent motives. It contains allegations of severe violations by the president that may resonate with voters who are already discontent with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and protests, some argue. Bolton’s claims that Trump took a conciliatory approach to China, specifically, could undercut the president’s attempts to sell himself as a strong adversary to Beijing. 

What’s next

Bolton’s book is scheduled for release on June 23. Democrats in the House are considering whether to seek testimony from Bolton in light of the new allegations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.

Perspectives

The claims will hurt Republican senators seeking reelection

“The ones who really will suffer, deservedly so, from Bolton’s account are the Republican senators who refused to hear his testimony and then voted to acquit (for lack of evidence, some said). Bolton’s book confirms how much harder it would have been for them to let Trump off the hook had a longtime conservative known for copious note-taking been called to testify.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

The accusations are significant, despite Bolton’s self-serving actions

“The bottom line is that while Bolton offers a portrait of Trump that is politically and personally self-serving, it is also indispensable, jaw-dropping, and more specific about high-level wrongdoing than the many embittered memoirs and background gripes to journalists that preceded it.” — Susan B. Glasser, New Yorker

Bolton’s claims wouldn’t have changed the impeachment saga at all

“The key argument that Republican opponents of impeachment made was that lawful behavior by a president, however objectionable, could not be a legitimate basis for impeachment. … To the extent it was a valid defense against impeachment over Ukraine, it would have been an equally valid defense against impeachment over anything Bolton says here.” — Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review 

The book could be a sign that more former administration officials are ready to turn on Trump

“Many others have yet to spill the beans, at least not every last lima, pinto and garbanzo, and I think we’re on the cusp of a bean buffet. As Trump grows even meaner and more erratic and as the election nears, the impulse to expose him will intensify. It could be what topples him.” — Frank Bruni, New York Times

Bolton missed his chance to make an impact

“Bolton could have changed the course of history. Instead, he will go down in a footnote as an enabler of corruption, a model of cowardice and an opportunist who put self above country.” — Elie Honig, CNN

The revelations may be more impactful now

“The irony is that even though Bolton’s account of Trump’s shamelessness and corruption didn’t emerge in time to be considered during Trump’s impeachment and trial, it is perhaps even more poignant in the summer of 2020 than it would have been in the fall of 2019.” — David A. Graham, Atlantic

The public is too occupied for the book to make much of a difference 

“Let’s face it, what might have been blockbuster testimony in January or February seems more historical than contemporary today. In the mindset the other side of a worldwide pandemic, a recession and a national hour of reckoning on race, the Bolton revelations now have far less impact than they might have had.” — Ron Elving, NPR

Bolton’s claims make Trump look weak on China

“Bolton’s descriptions of Trump’s priorities seem to fit what we know perfectly. Rather than getting tough on China, Trump appears to care far more about the appearance of getting tough with China than actually accomplishing substantial policy.” — Eric Boehm, Reason

The book makes Democrats look bad too

“In voting to impeach Trump without waiting for a court-ordered subpoena enforcement, they ensured that Bolton would never speak in the process, putting the nail on the coffin of their dreams of removing Trump from office.” — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

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