White House Sees Russia, China Planting Stories of U.S. Discord

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. has reason to believe Russia, China and other countries are spreading false stories about internal divisions in the Trump administration, White House national security adviser John Bolton said Tuesday.

“We have substantial reason to believe that North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Russia and China have made a decision to -- and you can see it publicly -- to try to sow disinformation about the administration, and to say that the president and his advisers are divided, and things like that,” Bolton said at a Wall Street Journal event in Washington. He didn’t provide evidence to substantiate his claim.

He complained that reporters are quick to regurgitate the false stories. “The stenographers of these regimes in the American press immediately pick it up,” he said.

Bolton’s comments add a new dimension to assertions by the U.S. that foreign governments seek to meddle in American internal affairs. Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently closed an investigation that found evidence Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Bolton made no mention of signs of division that have been on public display in which top officials in the administration have contradicted one another. In other cases, there have been well-documented signs of discord behind closed doors.

Bolton has been at odds with others in the administration, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo -- and with Trump.

For instance, while Trump has said he’s optimistic that “Iran will want to talk soon,” Bolton has advocated regime change and even preemptive strikes against Tehran for years. Pompeo, a former CIA director, is also seen as a hard-liner on the Islamic Republic, although he’s said his goal isn’t to seek a war with Iran or impose regime change from outside.

Bolton has also struck a more pessimistic tone than that voiced by other members of the administration -- including Pompeo -- about North Korea’s intentions and the prospects for a nuclear deal.

Earlier this year, an irked Trump cryptically announced on Twitter that he’d undo some North Korea-related sanctions blessed by Bolton. The president’s decision was quietly walked back and the sanctions remain in place.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Bolton also said it’s normal to have disagreements among government officials.

“Here’s the truth: There are disagreements within allied governments on foreign policy, too,” Bolton said. “That’s how it works. The president in our system makes the final decisions. I like to say and it’s completely accurate, I’m the national security adviser, I’m not the national security decision-maker."

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