John Boltonâ€™s near-600-page tome is the most damning written account by a Trump administration alumnus, the one that stands to haunt the president come November. In the authorâ€™s judgment, â€œI donâ€™t think heâ€™s fit for office. I donâ€™t think he has the competence to carry out the job.â€ Joe Biden couldnâ€™t say it better himself.
Finally, Donald Trumpâ€™s third national security adviser is spilling his guts. Trump begging for Chinaâ€™s assistance in 2019 makes his waltz in 2016 with WikiLeaks almost comical. â€œMake sure I win â€¦ Buy a lot of soybeans and wheat and make sure we win,â€ said the MAGA King, abasing himself before Xi Jinping, successor to the Dragon Throne, in the uncut version of Boltonâ€™s narrative.
The presidentâ€™s loyalists know they are staring at a problem that isnâ€™t disappearing. Insult is the only available weapon. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, called Bolton a traitor. Peter Navarro, the White House trade hawk, labeled The Room Where It Happened â€œdeep swamp revenge pornâ€.
On Saturday, a federal judge declined to block the bookâ€™s publication. Make that three big losses in one week for Bill Barrâ€™s justice department. First, LGBTQ workforce rights, then Daca and the Dreamers, now this. And thatâ€™s not including the standoff with the US attorney for the Southern District of New York that didnâ€™t got quite as planned for Trump and Roy Cohn 2.0.
Trump trails Biden by double digits. His consigliere, Rudy Giuliani, is begging for more than three debates in the fall. Tulsa was a bust. The presidentâ€™s tailspin is pronounced, showing no sign of let-up.
The Room Where It Happened is laden with proximity and credibility, which makes it a book to be believed. Putting things into perspective, Trumpâ€™s justice department never went after A Warning, an insider-wannabeâ€™s account of Trumpian bedlam penned by â€œAnonymousâ€. Likewise, no one will confuse Bolton with Omarosa or Sean Spicer. There is no reality TV in Boltonâ€™s past or future. Just the publicâ€™s verdict.
Not surprisingly, Trump bashes Bolton as a liar and threatens him with criminal prosecution. But Bolton retains his famed notepads. Trump beware.
The presidentâ€™s public persona is little different from the man behind the Resolute Desk. The Room Where It Happened chronicles, for example, Trumpâ€™s animus toward the late Senator John McCain. Bolton describes the presidentâ€™s â€œvindictiveness, as evidenced by the constant eruptions against John McCain, even after McCain died and could do Trump no more harmâ€.
Back in the day, Bolton was recruited by James A Baker III, like McCain a Republican lion, Ronald Reaganâ€™s chief of staff and George HW Bushâ€™s secretary of state. To quote Baker, â€œJohnâ€™s an extraordinarily bright guy.â€
Baker didnâ€™t say wise.
In 2018, when the president was looking to offload HR McMaster, his second national security adviser, Bolton was on Fox News auditioning. Trump liked what he saw and heard. The rest is spectacle.
Bolton is neither hero nor martyr. Itâ€™s not in his DNA. A staunch proponent of the Iraq war and an implacable Iran foe, he sees death as something for others. In his Yale University 25th reunion yearbook, he wrote: â€œI confess I had no desire to die in a south-east Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.â€ Think of Dick Cheney saying the quiet part loud â€“ in Dolby sound.
Late last year, during impeachment proceedings against Trump, the nation focused on the congressional testimony of Fiona Hill and Lt Col Alexander Vindman, members of Boltonâ€™s own National Security Council. Bolton himself sat mum, despite the fact he had already left the White House. Like Nero, he fiddled when things got hot.
During the impeachment trial, Bolton said he would respect a Senate subpoena demanding his testimony â€“ knowing that writ would never arrive. Even as The Room Where It Happened is published, Senate Republicans persist in claiming Boltonâ€™s revelations would not have changed a thing.
Bolton witnessed the president trading national security for dirt on Biden, bartering the US justice system for Turkeyâ€™s benefit, turning into Xiâ€™s lapdog. But when it counted, Bolton elected to hold his peace. Belatedly posing as virtuous brings limited rewards.
For the price of a publisherâ€™s advance, Bolton now opines that the House Democrats committed â€œimpeachment malpracticeâ€ by not broadening their investigation. He may have come to loathe the president, but â€œowning the libsâ€ took precedence.
In case anyone forgot, once upon a time Bolton was a client of Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct Breitbart affiliate and Robert Mercer-owned company that hoovered up personal data and illicitly interfered in the Brexit vote.
In 2014, Boltonâ€™s Super Pac contacted with the company for â€œbehavioral microtargeting with psychographic messagingâ€. That meant plundering Facebook usersâ€™ data.
According to whistleblower Christopher Wylie: â€œBolton Pac was obsessed with how America was becoming limp-wristed and spineless and it wanted research and messaging for national security issues.â€ In his book, Boltonâ€™s description is more modest: â€œIn late 2013, I formed a Pac and a Super Pac to aid House and Senate candidates who believed in a strong US national security policy.â€
He also shares world leadersâ€™ impressions of Trump Incâ€™s policy chops. The Room Where It Happened records the doubts of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israelâ€™s prime minister, about Jared Kushnerâ€™s ability to deliver Middle East peace.
Says Bolton, Netanyahu was â€œenough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed.â€ Delusion? Hubris? Either will do.
On that score, the author observes the relationship between the Israeli prime minister and Kushnerâ€™s family had spanned decades. In a non-denial denial, Netanyahu has said he â€œhas complete faithâ€ in â€œKushnerâ€™s abilities and rejects any description to the contraryâ€.
Boltonâ€™s prose is lackluster. But thatâ€™s a relatively minor shortcoming. More egregious is the bookâ€™s title, which is lazy and self-aggrandizing. Bolton has ripped-off Lin-Manuel Miranda and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton, founding father and first treasury secretary. Talk about overreach.
In Mirandaâ€™s Broadway smash, Hamilton, Aaron Burr laments his lack of nexus to power, as opposed to the playâ€™s protagonist, who is negotiating a grand compromise on the federal governmentâ€™s assumption of the statesâ€™ debt. In song, Burr complains: â€œI wanna be in the room where it happens.â€
When an American president is caught giving a thumbs-up to concentration camps for Muslims â€“ an allegation the White House has not denied â€“ and his son-in-law is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, thatâ€™s one heckuva story.
Just before the book oozed out, Steve Bannon, another Cambridge Analytica partner, predicted China would be the â€œcenterpieceâ€ of this yearâ€™s campaign. How right he is.
Except it will be Trump, not Biden, who will be catching grief for being the Middle Kingdomâ€™s poodle. Vladimir Putin, move over. The Room Where It Happened is the best opposition research dump. Ever.