Bolton says Trump’s handling of Russia bounty report aids foes

Josh Wingrove
Bloomberg

The Trump administration’s response to the allegation Russia offered bounties for killing American troops makes the U.S. vulnerable to adversaries regardless of whether it’s true, former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton says.

“What it tells the Russians is that we are in disarray and ripe for this kind of provocation, not just in Afghanistan but in many, many places around the world,” Bolton said in an interview Wednesday on “Bloomberg Surveillance” on Bloomberg Television and Radio. He said he believes Trump has told three different versions of what happened and that his “advisers are now contradicting themselves” as well.

Bolton has gone from a former top adviser to President Donald Trump to a vocal critic with the publishing of a memoir. As debate continues over whether Trump had been provided information, verbally or in writing, about the Russia bounty allegation, Bolton said Trump doesn’t retain information well and that Democratic rival Joe Biden would be better at doing so.

“What I’m talking about here is not Does the president read lengthy briefing papers?,’ Does he get it via movies?’ and that sort of thing,” Bolton said. “The question for Donald Trump is does he get it at all, and I think he’s uninterested in learning. I think that facts that are inconvenient for him often don’t stick, despite repeated tellings.”

“But this is a serious problem for the United States,” Bolton said. “You can say what you want about Joe Biden in policy terms. I think he receives, processes and retains information. I think, with Trump, it’s much more questionable.”

Trump has publicly shrugged off allegations about the bounties and has yet to demand an investigation or threaten Russia with any consequences if the allegations are confirmed. On Wednesday, he said in a tweet that it’s “just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party.”

The Trump administration is arranging a closed-door briefing on Wednesday for Senate leaders regarding the bounty reports, first published by the New York Times. Lawmakers from both parties have demanded the administration hold Russia accountable if there’s evidence the bounty offers occurred.

Important Allegations

Trump’s current National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that the intelligence was uncorroborated, was first received months ago and that he’d begun preparing options for Trump in the event it was confirmed.

“These are important allegations. And if they’re verified, I guarantee you the president will take strong action. We’ve been working for several months on options,” O’Brien said. It was a career CIA official who decided not to brief Trump on it, O’Brien said, adding he thinks that official made the right decision. Now, because it leaked, “we may never get to the truth of the matter now and that’s really a shame.”

O’Brien declined to say whether the president’s written daily brief included the subject, and sidestepped a question on whether Trump reads them. “I’m not going to get into the president’s reading material, but what I will say is he is a voracious consumer of intelligence and reads, listens, hears from me multiple times a day,” O’Brien said.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that “we make sure that the president is aware” when a “threat is sufficiently serious.”

“The president has been consistently aware of the challenges Russia presents to us,” he said.

In the interview, Bolton declined to say whether he briefed Trump on the bounty allegation before he left the administration. He signaled that his ongoing dispute with the White House over his book, and the pre-publication review it underwent to prevent the disclosure of classified information, prevent him from doing so.

“This current controversy, I could have written about in the book if I didn’t face these other difficulties,” Bolton said. He said that he agrees with Susan Rice, former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, that the president should have been briefed on such information regardless of whether it was fully verified.

“How do I view that in terms of the Trump presidency? Look, it’s just another day at the office,” he said. “That’s the way it works – every day is a new day, every story is a new story, what you said yesterday is interesting but doesn’t necessarily dictate what you say today.”