Secretary Mike Pompeo’s relationship with President Trump is in the spotlight following passages from John Bolton’s new book.
The former national security adviser paints Pompeo as someone who instinctively pushed back against some of the president’s policies and privately criticized Trump.
For now, Pompeo appears to have emerged largely unscathed, with the White House dismissing Bolton’s memoir as nothing more than a collection of lies meant to boost sales of the book, titled “The Room Where It Happened.”
Shortly after excerpts of the book were published, Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he has a “very good relationship with Pompeo.”
One of the more sensational excerpts in the book recounts an episode in which Pompeo supposedly showed Bolton a notepad where he had written “he is so full of shit,” referring to Trump.
The president said Wednesday that he doubts the secretary wrote those words.
“Does he have the note? Let me see the note,” Trump said in the interview.
Pompeo later gave his own rebuttal to Bolton’s book, issuing a statement that began “I Was In The Room Too.” He said Bolton is “spreading a number of lies, fully-spun half-truths, and outright falsehoods.”
When asked if Bolton’s book has impacted Pompeo’s standing with the president, a senior White House official said: “Pompeo’s response to Bolton’s claim was clear and unambiguous. Additionally there is genuine belief within the White House that Bolton should get a PhD for creative writing. These two factors allow Pompeo to enjoy the continued confidence and support of the President.”
Bolton describes Pompeo’s management style as “conflict avoidance,” and the scenarios in the book paint a picture of a secretary delicately navigating the whims of the president, foreign policy and what he thinks is right.
Pompeo was against Trump meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un at the Demilitarized Zone in June last year, with Bolton relaying the episode as Pompeo wanting to be excluded.
“I have no value added on this. This is complete chaos,” Bolton quoted Pompeo as saying.
But the secretary later went along with Trump’s wishes.
“The next thing I knew, Trump had signed the ‘formal’ letter of invitation that the North Koreans had asked for. Pompeo had succumbed yet again,” Bolton wrote.
Bolton also wrote that Pompeo had considered resigning in December 2018, following a string of events: Trump agreeing with Chinese President Xi Jinping on his building of concentration camps for Uighur Muslims; fears that the president would roll back restrictions on Chinese telecommunication firms; and concerns over Trump’s legal issues.
“Somewhere nearby was resignation territory, I said, which Pompeo agreed with. This didn’t yet require drafting a resignation letter, but warning lights were flashing,” Bolton wrote.
Pompeo has long received praise from the president. The former House member first served as Trump’s CIA director before becoming Trump’s second secretary of State, gaining notoriety as a GOP congressman for his relentless interrogation of then-secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi investigation led by House Republicans.
That exchange apparently stuck with the president, described in one episode of Bolton’s book as Trump pushing for Pompeo to find a way for the U.S. to leave Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Call Pompeo and tell him to remember Benghazi,” Bolton quoted the president’s instructions.
Pompeo also played a key role in actions surrounding the impeachment process led by House Democrats last year, when the secretary came under fire for being among the department heads who sought to block testimony of top State Department officials in the probe into Trump’s contacts with Ukraine. He also faced criticism that he failed to protect diplomats and other career officials under his leadership.
In one chapter of the book, Bolton describes Pompeo’s role responding to the president wanting to fire U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch last year.
The account tracks with testimony from the House impeachment inquiry, that the secretary sought to prevent and then delay the ambassador’s ousting. Bolton wrote that Pompeo dismissed out of hand accusations raised by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Bolton wrote that Pompeo told him Yovanovitch “was trying to reduce corruption in Ukraine and may well have been going after some of Giuliani’s clients.”
Nevertheless, Pompeo hastened Yovanovitch’s exit to late November or early December, almost six months ahead of her expected departure.
“Pompeo wanted to leave it at that,” Bolton wrote, but Trump’s intense focus on Yovanovitch led him to recall her on April 23. “Pompeo closed by saying that he would order her back to Washington that night.”
The book and its characterization of Pompeo come at a time when he is already under scrutiny for recommending Trump fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was investigating the secretary’s authorization of a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia as well as whether he misused a political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife, such as picking up dry cleaning and walking their dog.
Pompeo has pushed back on allegations he ousted Linick to interfere with such investigations.
House Democrats are investigating the circumstances surrounding Linick’s ousting, and are expected to question next week one of the secretary’s closest aides, Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao, who had knowledge of the ongoing investigations.
The testimony and subsequent investigation are likely to pose another test for Pompeo and his place within the administration, but the White House reaction to Bolton’s book suggest his ties to Trump remain as strong as they were before.
Former national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz aired Sunday night that he hoped President Trump would not be elected to a second term.
“I hope it will remember him as a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral we can’t recall from,” Bolton said in the interview, when asked how he thinks history will remember Trump. “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 said he didn’t believe Trump “fully understands the democratic process” or the Constitution and doesn’t appreciate the “proper role of the presidency.” He also criticized Trump’s style of governance, warning that under the current president there’s “no coherent basis, no strategy, no philosophy.”
“And decisions are made in a very scatter shot fashion, especially in the potentially mortal field of national security policy,” Bolton added. “This is a danger for the republic.”
Bolton was critical of both Trump and his Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, and said he would write in the name of a conservative Republican when he votes in the November general election.
“I’m really troubled about the absence as well of a viable national security wing in the Democratic Party. So this is an election for me of a choice of two unacceptable alternatives. And it’s not one I relish,” Bolton continued.
Bolton sat for the interview to promote “The Room Where it Happened,” his forthcoming memoir that paints a scathing picture of the Trump White House.
In the book and his interview with ABC News, Bolton describes Trump as easily moved by foreign leaders including North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He describes Trump as mesmerized by so-called “love letters” that Kim sent him and obsessed with the photo opportunity of the first meeting between the two in Singapore. Bolton also asserts that Putin believed he could play Trump “like a fiddle.”
Trump has sharply criticized Bolton, who served as his national security adviser for 17 months before stepping down last September, over the book, calling him “incompetent” and claiming Bolton’s book was “made up of lies.”
The Justice Department sued to stop the publication of Bolton’s book, claiming it contained classified information. A federal judge denied that attempt over the weekend, noting the book – which will be released on June 23 – had already been widely distributed.
But the judge questioned Bolton’s decision to push forward with the book’s publication before receiving written notice that the book didn’t contain classified information and left open the possibility the government could seize proceeds from the book.