John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, has just added a new chapter to the stockpile of evidence that Trump betrayed the United States. In his forthcoming book, The Room Where It Happened, Bolton reports that last year, Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him get reelected. Bolton was a direct witness to these overtures. His story matches Trump’s solicitation of Russian assistance in the 2016 election and Trump’s extortion of Ukraine to get campaign help against former Vice President Joe Biden in 2020. But there’s one more very good reason to believe Bolton’s allegation: Trump, in front of thousands of people, has essentially confirmed it.
In a Wall Street Journal excerpt from his book, Bolton describes a December 2018 dinner between Trump and Xi. In that conversation, he recalls, Trump offered to reduce U.S. tariffs on China in exchange for “increases in Chinese farm-product purchases, to help with the crucial farm-state vote.” Then, in June 2019, according to Bolton, Trump told Xi that a “trade deal with China” would “be a big plus for him politically.” In a third discussion, later that month, Trump “turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.” Bolton recalls that in this meeting, Trump “stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.” Bolton adds: “I would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.”
Trump claims that Bolton “made up” these stories. But the president’s own words, delivered at reelection rallies before and after he signed the trade deal with China on Jan. 15, validate Bolton’s account. On Nov. 6 in Louisiana, Trump bragged about collecting billions of dollars in tariffs from China and warned voters that if Democrats were to gain power, they would lose that revenue stream. On Dec. 18 in Michigan, he said he was funneling money from China through the U.S. treasury to take “good care of our farmers.” On Jan. 9 in Ohio, he boasted that he was about to sign “a big, beautiful monster—$40 to $50 billion to our farmers” from China. He scoffed that Democrats could never have scored such a deal.
The president made clear that to get China’s money, he was willing to sacrifice human rights. China and the United States were “making the largest trade deal in history,” Trump told Fox and Friends on Nov. 22. “We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine.” On Jan. 10, when Laura Ingraham asked Trump about “the human rights issue in China”—“a million people in reeducation camps, internment camps”—he replied, “Well, I’m riding a fine line, because we’re making … great trade deals.” Trump accused President Ronald Reagan of leaving money on the table: “He didn’t trade with the Soviet Union at all.” Trump told Ingraham, “We have a great relationship with China right now, so I don’t want to speak badly of anyone.”
On Jan. 14, at a rally in Milwaukee, Trump said he was about to sign the China deal, “massively boosting exports of products made and produced right here in the great state of Wisconsin.” With money rolling in from this and other deals, he told the crowd, “You gotta love Trump. You gotta love Trump.” At rallies in Iowa and New Jersey, he said the pact with China would bring hundreds of billions of dollars to local industries. In a CNBC interview, Trump predicted that his deals would spark “massive growth” in the coming year. He credited this bounty to his “extraordinary” relationship “with President Xi, president for life.”
Then, on Feb. 10, Trump blurted out what Bolton had heard him say in private. At a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump told his followers: “Last month, we signed a groundbreaking trade agreement with China that will defeat so many of our opponents. The money that’s pouring in—people don’t even believe it.” The reference to defeating “our opponents” mirrored what Bolton had heard Trump tell Xi in private: that the two men shared a common enemy—“the Democrats”—and that Trump needed China’s help to beat them.
Ten days after the speech in Manchester, Trump told farmers, at a rally in Colorado Springs, that they owed him for all the Chinese tariff payments he had funneled to them. “I gave you a lot of money,” he told them. He added that China had agreed to buy more of their products as a personal gesture. “I said, ‘Do me a favor: Instead of $20 billion purchased from our farmers, would you make it 50?’ … And they agreed to do it.” In Trump’s account, American farm income was the result not of free enterprise or U.S. policy, but of a personal arrangement between Trump and Xi.
As the novel coronavirus ravaged China, the United States, and other countries, Trump continued to fixate on trade. He vouched for Xi’s candor about the virus—ignoring warnings from his advisers that China was downplaying the crisis—and assured Americans that everything was fine because China was buying American goods. On March 27, after lobbying Xi to buy more farm products, Trump expressed surprise that Xi and other leaders kept changing the subject back to the virus. “Nobody cares about trade,” Trump complained. “You want to talk about trade? They immediately get back to this.”
Trump’s public boasts confirm Bolton’s account. The president put “his own political interests” ahead of “U.S. national interests,” Bolton writes, “not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security.” Virtually every decision, according to Bolton, was “driven by re-election calculations.” Trump’s behavior with Russia and Ukraine substantiates that indictment. So does his collusion with China.
For more of Slate’s news coverage, listen to The Political Gabfest.
Support our 2020 coverage
Slate is covering the election issues that matter to you. Support our work with a Slate Plus membership. You’ll also get a suite of great benefits.Join Slate Plus