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Trump fires Bolton as national security adviser

Updated September 10, 2019 - 5:08 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has fired National Security Adviser John Bolton, saying he and others in the administration disagreed with Bolton’s recommendations.

Bolton officially submitted his resignation letter Tuesday morning.

The announcement, which Trump characteristically made on Twitter, came days after Trump announced he was canceling peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David over the weekend — talks which Bolton reportedly strongly opposed.

“I informed John Bolton last night (Monday) that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” Trump wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning.”

Bolton offered his own version of the timeline on Twitter, saying: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”

Trump said he would name a new national security adviser — his fourth in his first term in office — next week.

In a sense, Bolton’s departure falls among the least surprising firings during Trump’s tenure, given his support for the Iraq war and generally hawkish approach to national security, which stood in sharp contrast to Trump’s quest to free American troops from “endless wars.”

Bolton and Trump never had the buddy type of relationship that marked Trump’s feelings about his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who served on the job for less than a month and later pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his Russian contacts.

Bolton had made clear his opposition to peace talks conducted by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban even before Trump floated a meeting, later rescinded, at Camp David.

In July when Trump crossed the DMZ into North Korea with strongman Kim Jong Un during an impromptu summit of sorts, Bolton was not part of the team; instead, he was on his way to Mongolia.

Bolton supported the administration’s “maximum pressure” stance against Iran even as Trump has indicated that he is willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without conditions.

Asked during a press briefing if he could foresee such a meeting later this month, when the Iranian leader will attend the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded, “Sure.”

Pompeo added, “The President has made very clear he is prepared to meet with no preconditions.”

Trump hired Bolton, a hawkish former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, in March 2018, after he announced the dismissal on Twitter of H.R. McMaster, who frequently clashed with the president.

Trump tweeted the news on Bolton just before noon Tuesday – 90 minutes ahead of a scheduled press briefing in which Bolton, Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were expected to talk about a new executive order to expand sanctions against terrorist organizations.

Instead, Pompeo and Mnuchin took the podium without their former colleague, only to be peppered with questions about Bolton’s departure and whether top staffers were blindsided. “I’m never surprised,” Pompeo grinned.

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters that deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman will serve as the acting national security adviser.

Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of The Brookings Institution said that the move put Trump in “uncharted territory” as he searches for this fourth national security adviser in less than 32 months in office. No president has burned through three national security directors since the job was created in 1953.

“Flynn lasted 24 days, McMaster lasted almost 14 months and Bolton lasted 17 months—maybe number four will survive the remainder of the first term (18 months), maybe?” Tenpas told the Review Journal.

“It’s like watching Lincoln go through generals,” observed Bill Whalen of Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

But Pompeo and Mnuchin appeared serene about the staff turnover.

“The president’s entitled to the staff he wants,” Pompeo told reporters.

Mnuchin offered that Trump and Bolton had very different views on the Iraq war – “and the president has made that clear.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that Bolton’s “sudden departure is a symbol of the disarray that has unnerved our allies since day one of the Trump Administration.”

Others on the left made it clear they will not miss Bolton.

“The American people are better off with John Bolton out of the White House,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted. “The world will be better off when the man who hired him in the first place is out too.”

The ACLU’s Jamil Dakwar slammed Bolton for declaration that the United States would not cooperate with an International Criminal Court probe into “alleged war crimes committed by U.S. service members and intelligence professionals” during the Afghanistan war.

“He celebrated when victims of torture were denied the opportunity to hold their torturers accountable,” Dakwar said in a statement.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., went on Fox News to applaud Trump’s decision that speaks to Trump’s “guts” in standing up against foreign policy orthodoxy. Paul also argued that Trump might get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan with right-minded staff behind him.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, released a statement in which he praised Bolton as a friend and added, “I sincerely hope his leaving the White House does not mean that the deep-state forces at State and Treasury — who have been fighting tooth and nail to preserve the Obama Iran nuclear deal — have finally convinced the president to go soft on Iran.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at DSaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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