President Trump and his Chinese counterpart spoke about Trump's reelection prospects "frequently," former National Security Adviser John Bolton tells NPR.
According to Bolton, Chinese President Xi Jinping lamented that Trump couldn't run for a potential third term, to which Trump "said yes," Bolton recounted.
"I just thought this kind of back and forth with authoritarian leaders did not reflect well on Donald Trump himself or the presidency or the United States," Bolton told NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep on Sunday evening, for an interview to be broadcast Monday.
Bolton is promoting a new book in which he accuses Trump of being uninformed, incompetent, ignorant of basic facts and almost solely focused on his own reelection.
Trump has blasted Bolton in recent days, calling him a liar. Trump ousted Bolton in September 2019.
According to Bolton, at a G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, Trump pressed Xi to buy agricultural products from U.S. farmers, who were an important voting bloc to Trump. Bolton writes that Trump also encouraged Xi and China to go ahead with prison camps for the largely minority Uighur dissidents.
Writing in his vote
In the book, The Room Where It Happened, Bolton writes that in his year and a half in the White House, he could barely think of any decisions Trump made that weren't driven by reelection calculations.
"Having seen him in operation for 17 months, I just cannot vote for him again," Bolton told Inskeep. "I'm planning to write in the name of a conservative Republican, identity to be determined yet. But I will not be voting for Donald Trump and I will not be voting for [presumptive Democratic nominee] Joe Biden."
Bolton said he still thinks Trump has an "excellent chance" to win in November. He says, whether Trump wins or loses, the GOP needs to come together to determine the future of the party. He warns that Republicans will likely soon understand that Trump's priorities are not in line with their own.
"Once he's free of any reelection pressure, it's going to be revealed — what one of my greatest concerns is — is that he's not a conservative," Bolton says. "And that's one reason I wrote the book. I think it's important to make it clear to Republicans and to Democrats that this is not the future of the Republican Party."
When pressed about his own role overseeing a National Security Council that made changes to an office overseeing the administration's response to pandemics, Bolton tried to refocus the blame back on the Oval Office.
Bolton said Trump simply didn't want to hear anything bad about the situation in China or that could be seen as critical of President Xi, such as the coronavirus — even though Bolton had left the administration by that point.
"And he didn't want to hear anything about negative effects on the Chinese economy that could undermine the trade negotiations," Bolton said.
Bolton said Trump also didn't want to hear anything that could suggest trouble for the American economy, "which he saw as his ticket to reelection."
Publication legal battle
The Justice Department made a last-ditch effort to block the book's publication.
Prosecutors alleged the book violates nondisclosure agreements Bolton signed as part of his employment, as well as compromises national security.
On Saturday, a federal judge ruled Bolton can move forward with publishing the memoir, but also admonished Bolton's conduct in releasing the book, saying doing so "raises grave national security concerns." U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth suggested that Bolton could still be prosecuted.
"Bolton has gambled with the national security of the United States," Lamberth wrote. "He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability. But these facts do not control the motion before the court. The government has failed to establish that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm."
Trump made clear that the administration would do whatever it could to prevent Bolton from benefiting financially from the book.
"Whatever he makes, he's going to be giving back, in my opinion. Based on the ruling, he's going to be giving back," Trump said Saturday before leaving the White House for a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla.
Bolton said the threats and lawsuit are not unexpected, but he says he felt "vindicated" by the court's decision. He said an NSC official concluded that there was no classified information in his manuscript.
Bolton said he knew there would be "trials and tribulations" when you displease Trump.
"So this is all par for the course," Bolton said. "And I didn't look forward to it. Don't get me wrong. This wasn't anything I thought would be pleasant. But I have been determined and was vindicated by the court in laying this story before the American people. They will be the one to decide."