Trump Ousts Bolton After Dispute Over Negotiating With Taliban
John Bolton. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Ousts Bolton After Dispute Over Negotiating With Taliban

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he fired his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, after disagreeing “strongly” with many of his positions, ending a tumultuous tenure marked by multiple setbacks in U.S. foreign policy.

Bolton, known for his hardline approach to U.S. adversaries, including Iran, North Korea and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, was the third person to formally occupy the White House’s highest-ranking national security job under Trump.

“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” Trump said in a pair of tweets. “I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”

Bolton had been scheduled to take part in a White House press briefing Tuesday on terrorism. Minutes after Trump’s announcement, Bolton contradicted the president on Twitter, saying that he had offered to resign Monday night and Trump deferred the discussion.

Trump and Bolton had disagreed on “many, many issues,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said. Most recently, Bolton had advised the president against a meeting he had planned with the Taliban at Camp David to complete negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan.

In a two-sentence letter dated Sept. 10, Bolton wrote to the president: “I hereby resign, effective immediately, as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. Thank you for having afforded me this opportunity to serve our country.”

Trump Ousts Bolton After Dispute Over Negotiating With Taliban

Bolton was also skeptical of Trump’s overtures to Kim Jong Un. He was conspicuously absent in June when Trump made a snap decision to meet the North Korean leader at the Demilitarized Zone; Bolton instead traveled to Mongolia to meet with officials there.

His allies regarded Bolton as a handbrake on Trump’s worst instincts; one person close to Bolton pointed out that in his tenure, the president had not made any “bad deals” in places including Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria or Afghanistan. Grisham overheard the person speaking to a small group of reporters at the White House and remarked sharply: “Right outside my office.”

Bolton’s departure is a boon for Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who had clashed with the national security adviser and now assumes an unchallenged role as Trump’s closest adviser on foreign policy. Charlie Kupperman, the deputy national security adviser, will assume Bolton’s position on an acting basis, deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said.

Kupperman is a Bolton confidant who has counseled the former national security adviser for more than 30 years, Bolton has said. Grisham said it was “too soon to say” whether Bolton’s closest National Security Council aides would remain in their jobs.

Possible Bolton replacements discussed by Trump associates include Robert O’Brien, who is the president’s envoy for hostage affairs, and Brian Hook, Pompeo’s senior policy adviser.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally, told Fox News that the president had mentioned Hook as well as Keith Kellogg, a national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence; and Ricky Waddell, a former national security official.

Foreign Setbacks

Gidley said in an interview on Fox News after Trump’s announcement that it had become “very clear that John Bolton’s policies and priorities did not align with President Trump’s.”

After Bolton’s departure, Kupperman and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told a gathering of the NSC’s senior directors that Trump’s policies hadn’t changed and they should stay focused on their priorities, according to three people familiar with the matter. Kupperman will take a leave for a scheduled surgery in less than two weeks, they said.

The break came days after Trump abandoned his plan to meet with the Taliban at Camp David, capping a tough week. On Friday, the president’s adviser on North Korea said negotiations have been stalled for months. On Thursday, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt announced his intention to depart; the vaunted Israeli-Palestinian peace plan he’s been working on has yet to be unveiled. The U.S.-China trade war drags on.

Crude oil futures reversed an earlier gain in New York, falling 0.8% to settle at $57.40 a barrel.

Bolton, 70, joined the White House in April 2018, bringing an interventionist view into Trump’s inner circle.

Trump Ousts Bolton After Dispute Over Negotiating With Taliban

From the outset, Bolton seemed like an odd fit for a president who champions an “America First” agenda and campaigned on disengaging the U.S. from wars prosecuted by his predecessors. At times, Bolton pursued his own longstanding foreign policy priorities, creating tension with top administration officials and the president himself.

Bolton came to the post best known for his ardent support of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq while serving in the George W. Bush administration. He was later a Fox News contributor and senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Since joining Trump’s White House, Bolton sought to break Iran financially, shield Americans from the reach of the International Criminal Court and toughen U.S. posture toward Russia. Bolton was a leading voice promoting U.S. support for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, an effort that hasn’t been successful.

Trump Ousts Bolton After Dispute Over Negotiating With Taliban

Western diplomats view Bolton’s departure as a sign that a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is increasingly likely to happen at the U.N. General Assembly later this month, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Trump has offered to meet Rouhani to discuss a new agreement to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons, but the Iranians have demanded that the U.S. first relax sanctions on Tehran. Bolton has been an outspoken critic of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Trump abandoned and has urged increased economic pressure on the Islamic Republic.

‘Naive Worldview’

Bolton’s departure drew mixed reactions from Republican lawmakers.

Senator Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican, said it was a “huge loss” for the administration. Bolton’s “point of view is not always the same as everyone else in the room. That’s why you want him there,” Romney said.

Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, said the threat of war “goes down exponentially with John Bolton out of the White House.”

“I think his advocacy for regime change around the world is a naïve worldview and I think the world will be a much better place with a new adviser,” Paul said.

Weeks before joining the administration, Bolton wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing for a preemptive strike against North Korea, only for Trump to instead pursue diplomacy with Kim. Bolton said that his personal views were “now behind me” and that “the important thing is what the president says and what advice I give him.”

Kelly Conflict

Bolton also took a hard line on immigration policy, and clashed with former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly over the administration’s approach to border crossings.

Last year, Kelly and Bolton engaged in a heated argument outside the Oval Office over immigration and the performance of then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Bolton was among the officials who urged Trump to fire Nielsen.

Trump Ousts Bolton After Dispute Over Negotiating With Taliban

Bolton, whom the president sometimes called “the Mustache” because of his trademark facial hair, clashed with Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over sanctions against Iran. Bolton has argued that waivers for the sanctions were too generous toward Iran.

Bolton had been scheduled to brief reporters at the White House with Mnuchin and Pompeo on Tuesday.

Bolton suffered the loss of his top deputy, Mira Ricardel, in November after first lady Melania Trump called for her ouster. Melania Trump issued an unusual public statement demanding Ricardel leave the White House after clashes between Bolton’s deputy and the first lady’s staff over her trip to Africa last year.

Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned after less than a month in the job following revelations that he was under investigation for his communications with Russian officials before Trump’s inauguration. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to federal agents about the contacts.

A retired Army general, H.R. McMaster, replaced Flynn in the role and endured public criticism from his boss during his tenure, which lasted just over a year. Trump chastised McMaster on Twitter for telling a forum in Germany that it was “incontrovertible” that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Trump said McMaster must have forgotten to say the meddling hadn’t impacted the results of the vote.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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