John Bolton says Trump asked China for re-election help in explosive new book

The former national security adviser portrays the president as erratic and ill-informed and as putting his own interests above all else.
Image: ***BESTPIX*** US-NETHERLANDS-DIPLOMACY
John Bolton, right, then the national security adviser, listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the media before a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Oval Office on July 2, 2018.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Carol E. Lee, Peter Alexander, Sally Bronston and Jacob Gardenswartz

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to agree to trade policies that would help with his re-election in November, a request echoing the charges that led to his impeachment, according to an explosive new book by former national security adviser John Bolton, in which he describes his former boss as employing "obstruction of justice as a way of life."

Bolton writes that in a face-to-face discussion with Xi, the president seemed to suggest that China was able to influence U.S. politics, and he specifically asked Xi to increase the amount of soybeans and wheat China buys from the U.S. because it is important to the Midwestern voters who helped Trump win in 2016. If Xi agreed, Trump said, he would lift the tariffs he had enacted against China, Bolton writes.

In a nod to the contentious review process he underwent before publishing his book — one that the Justice Department contends he failed to complete — Bolton writes: "I would print Trump's exact words, but the government's prepublication review process has decided otherwise."

Bolton's much-anticipated, 494-page book paints in copious detail a devastating portrait of an erratic, ill-informed president who sees the Justice Department as his personal tool, prioritizes his own interests above all else, including the country, and myopically processes every decision through the lens of how it might affect his re-election chances.

Trump has accused Bolton of publishing classified information in his book, which is due out Tuesday, and suggested that he should face criminal charges.

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit in hope of delaying publication. And Wednesday night, the Justice Department filed an emergency application for a temporary restraining order and a motion for an injunction to prevent publication. The department is asking for a hearing Friday, just days ahead of the scheduled release.

The White House has not directly responded to the charges in the book, but White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday tweeted a series of kind words Bolton has had for the president in the past, saying, "I will leave it to the media to ask why John Bolton's memoir is debunked by his own words."

Thursday morning, President Trump in a tweet said the Bolton book is "made up of lies & fake stories" and called his former adviser a "disgruntled boring fool."

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NBC News obtained a copy of the book in advance of its release.

Bolton writes that Trump did not seem to know that the U.K. is a nuclear power — after more than a year in office — and wondered whether Finland was part of Russia.

He quotes Trump musing that journalists who refuse to reveal their sources "should be executed."

And he recalls Trump's telling Xi that he supported Beijing's construction of "concentration camps" to detain Uighurs, a group of Muslims living in China.

"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.

Trump on Wednesday signed into law legislation aimed at addressing human rights abuses of Uighurs in China.

Bolton, a known bureaucratic infighter who worked for four Republican presidents, has been a Fox News contributor and a fixture in hawkish GOP foreign policy doctrine for decades, and he settles multiple scores with other Trump administration officials in the book. A copious note taker, he writes about some of his former colleagues' disparaging and mocking the president behind his back.

Bolton writes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with whom Bolton repeatedly clashed during his 17 months in the White House, slipped him a note during one of Trump's meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un saying their boss was "so full of shit."

Once, Bolton writes, when John Kelly was weighing resigning as White House chief of staff, he said: "What if we have a real crisis like 9/11 with the way he makes decisions?"

The White House Bolton describes sounds similar to the one in other insider accounts in that he says it is chaotic and full of backbiting staff members, with a president at the center who likes to pit aides against each other and cares most about putting on a show.

But the withering retellings are more detailed than in previous books about the Trump White House.

Bolton, who submitted his manuscript for review by the National Security Council six months ago, entered the White House in spring 2018 as a Trump favorite. Aides referred to him as the president's "flavor of the month" adviser.

Their relationship soured over time, and by the time he resigned — Trump says he fired him — Bolton disagreed with the president on almost every major foreign policy issue: from Iran and North Korea to Afghanistan and Venezuela.

What was not clear at the time but is vividly apparent now is how deeply Bolton disliked Trump and how dangerous for the country and the world he believed he was.

Bolton confirms accounts of Trump's withholding aid to Ukraine until its new president agreed to investigate his potential political opponent, Joe Biden, which some officials who worked for him at the National Security Council testified to during the House's impeachment hearings.

Bolton refused to testify in the Democratic-led House, saying a judge would have to decide whether he could do so after the White House warned him not to appear before Congress. But he said he would testify during the Republican-led Senate trial.

Democrats are criticizing Bolton for refusing to testify but selling what he knew in a book.