In an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, fired national security adviser John Bolton offered a brutal assessment of his former boss, saying, “I hope (history) will remember him as a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral we can’t recall from. 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.”
He also defended his decision not to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, saying it “would not have made a difference.”
BOLTON: Well, he directly linked the provision of that assistance with the investigation. My objective here, people in the aftermath, in light of the impeachment investigation thought that those of us like Pompeo and [Mark] Esper and myself should have been sort of junior woodchuck FBI agents looking for evidence of impeachable offenses.
What we were all tryin’ to do was get the assistance released to the Ukraine. Because it was in America’s interests to do so. We’d worry about the Biden thing later. And I told the White House counsel, I told the Justice Department about these conversations. That’s what I thought I should do. Because I was very concerned about them. But my objective as national security advisor was to carry out the president’s own policy since he had agreed to the legislation to get this assistance sent.
RADDATZ: Back to the Aug. 20 conversation. What exactly do you remember him saying?
BOLTON: Well, I lay out in the book my recollection of the sentence. But the linkage, the specificity of the linkage, I think, was unmistakable.
RADDATZ: He said in the book, he said he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until all the Russia investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over.
RADDATZ: So this was not the first time you heard the president himself directly link the investigation and the Ukraine aid? Or was it?
BOLTON: No. There were other conversations, some of which involved Rudy Giuliani, or references to Rudy Giuliani or others — where this connection was becoming clear. The conversation in August was the crispest indication of the linkage. But indirectly, and by clear implication, it had been growing for quite some time.
RADDATZ: The New York Times reported on that August conversation. And the president denied it, tweeting, “I never told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens.” Is the president lying?
BOLTON: Yes he is. And it’s not the first time, either. This is why I think it’s important to get these kinds of facts out on the table. The president’s talked about what he wants the people to hear about Ukraine. He’s talked about what he wants the people to hear about Iran, about North Korea, about Russia, about China.
I think — you know, foreign governments are not gonna be fascinated by what they read in my book. And I don’t think President Trump really fears what foreign governments are gonna read in the book. He fears what the American people are gonna read.
RADDATZ: How often did he talk about Biden and Ukraine?
BOLTON: As the months and weeks wore on, he talked about them more and more and more. And I think this was a case of him listening to outside advisors, and maybe some of his inside advisors as well, and just becoming obsessive on the point that if he could crack open what happened in Ukraine, he could discredit Biden — discredit Hillary as sort of a — icing on the cake.
And that that would be an enormous boost for his reelection. There was no doubt this was political. And what he was able to do during impeachment was convince people that somehow he only had the issue of corruption in the Ukraine in mind. And that was the least of his concerns.
RADDATZ: You were a star witness to something the president was on trial for, something you say you now find deeply disturbing, possibly criminal. Yet, you felt no obligation at all to tell the American people about this? Whether in testimony on the hill or an interview or a statement or anything?
BOLTON: I was fully prepared — if I got a subpoena like everybody else who testified got a subpoena. I think the way the House advocates of impeachment proceeded was badly wrong. I think it was impeachment malpractice. I think they were determined because of their own political objectives to conduct an impeachment proceeding that was very narrowly focused on Ukraine, and that went very, very quickly.
Because they didn’t wanna mess up the Democratic presidential nomination. Now, I find that conduct almost as bad and somewhat equivalent to Trump. That they’re torqueing one of the gravest constitutional responsibilities the House of Representatives has, the power of impeachment, around their presidential nomination schedule.
And they failed utterly to accomplish what they wanted. In fact, they made things worse. Because their strategy fitted with the Trump political strategy. Keep it narrow, and move it fast. So what did they do? The House advocates said, “We have proven Trump is impeached forever, and that he’d learn a lesson from it.”
It’s absolutely 180 degrees the opposite of the truth. Because he was acquitted in the Senate. He didn’t learn lessons from it, other than that he could get away with it, which leaves only the last guardrail — is the election this November. I think the House Democrats built a cliff, they threw themselves off of it. And halfway down, they looked up and saw me, and said, “Hey, why don’t you come along?”
RADDATZ: But you could have testified. You could have made some sort of statement. Your critics say you put your personal profit over the country by saving your depiction of Trump for this book.
BOLTON: I think that’s absolutely wrong. The fact was, the way the Democrats misused the process, the way they drove Republicans in the House away from them — Republicans in the House who might have supported impeachment, who might have looked for a boarder investigation, who would have been open to something they boxed into a very small political space, and forced them to fight back. And that guaranteed on the Senate side it would be a partisan fight there as well. And my testimony, or, by the way, the test —
RADDATZ: You don’t think it would have made a difference, your testimony —
BOLTON: I don’t think it would have made a difference because of the way the Democrats pursued the impeachment process in the House.
And people watched it on TV. It was a partisan catfight. There was no in — this was — this was so far removed from the Ervin committee — hearings of the Watergate era, which I remember quite well. The Democrats showed it was partisan in the House because they had it conducted by the House Intelligence Committee, rather than the House Judiciary Committee, which is in contemporary times, where impeachment’s conducted. This was all about politics for them. And it became all about politics for the Republicans. So —
RADDATZ: It’s also about — you’re a man who says you want to talk about facts. And you say it wouldn’t make a difference. But what you would have said in your testimony was what many believed was a key statement. The president himself directly connecting the aid to security assistance and the investigation.
RADDATZ: This is what Michael Purpura said during the impeachment hearings, the president’s legal counsel: “Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting, or anything else.” You could have been that person providing that testimony.
BOLTON: Yeah. And it would not have made any difference. The —
RADDATZ: How can you say that? How do you know —
BOLTON: Because minds — because minds were made up on Capitol Hill. And my feeling was in the midst of all the chaos that had been created, this would have come and gone, and nobody would have paid any attention to it. My view is when you take the extraordinary step of removing a president from office, you have to do it in a serious way. The only way to win an impeachment would have been to get Republicans to go along. And the Democrats abandoned that idea almost before they got started.
RADDATZ: But you’re also saying had they looked at — it was too narrow. They were just looking at Ukraine. And they should have looked at all these things that you’re outlining in the book. If they didn’t know about those things from you, how could they do that?
BOLTON: Because, a.) an impeachment process that was serious and not partisan, like Watergate, would have taken the time to cover all these areas. They were in a rush. They wanted to get it done much earlier than the beginning of the presidential nomination contest.
They didn’t quite make it. But the fact was, they had a strategy that suited their political objectives. And it’s not my obligation to help the Democrats out of their own problem. My judgment was that I was prepared to testify. But I think now this is actually a better time to tell the story. Because now the American people can look at it in the context of the most important political decision we make as a nation every four years.
RADDATZ: But you can certainly understand why your critics say, “Why didn’t he come forward before?”
BOLTON: Well —
RADDATZ: “Why is he making a profit on this now?”
BOLTON: You know, it has (LAUGH) nothing to do with making a profit. It has everything to do with making sure that the constitutional responsibilities that are accorded the different branches of government are carried out the right way. This is a very difficult issue, and the Democrats committed impeachment malpractice. They don’t like to hear that. But that’s the fact.