Details from former national security adviser John Bolton’s new book, The Room Where It Happened, came pouring out Wednesday afternoon in a series of news reports describing allegations of incompetence and misconduct by President Donald Trump.
The White House sued Bolton on Tuesday to try to delay publication of the book, which is due out next week. The government has said Bolton, who resigned last fall, didn’t follow a review process for the memoir that he’d agreed to when he took his role in 2018. (Bolton’s lawyer and publisher dispute the claim.)
The most eye-catching details to emerge have to do with Trump’s impeachment, his interactions with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and his general lack of knowledge about world affairs.
In an excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal, Bolton wrote that Trump had asked Xi to help him win the 2020 presidential election.
According to the excerpt, in June 2019, Xi complained to Trump about critics of China in the U.S. who were making the relationship between the two countries difficult. Trump then “immediately assumed that Xi meant the Democrats” and “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.” Trump told Xi that China’s purchase of American soybeans and wheat would please farmers and help his electoral chances.
In fact, according to Bolton: “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.”
In Bolton’s view, Democrats were negligent by not pushing the president on enough potential high crimes and misdemeanors, given that Trump apparently ignored his constitutional duty by choosing to pursue political points at the expense of any kind of coherent foreign policy. (This opinion was met immediately with outrage by critics of Bolton who wondered why the former national security adviser would wait for his multimillion-dollar book deal to lay out these threats to American democracy rather than testify at the impeachment hearings.)
Bolton appeared to agree with the allegations that Trump had pressured Ukraine to investigate his rivals in exchange for security aid. “He said he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until all Russia-investigation material related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over,” Bolton wrote. According to Bolton, the quid pro quo examined in the impeachment had been explicit, and had Democrats examined Trump’s dealings with Erdogan and Xi, they would have had a much stronger case.
The Xi story was one of many about the recklessness and ignorance of the president, coming from the first such tell-all memoir from a high-ranking member of the president’s administration. Bolton’s portrayal of Trump reinforces nearly every critical account of the president’s leadership style: ignorant of basic geopolitical facts, uninterested in his country’s own intelligence report, unpredictable, unable to resist flattery, and incapable of following his advisers’ policy positions.
• Trump discussed a desire to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to please Republican voters in Florida. But Trump was later “largely persuaded” by Vladimir Putin of Maduro’s positive qualities when the Russian president compared the opposition leader Juan Guaidó to Hillary Clinton. Trump also said invading Venezuela would be “cool” and that it was “really part of the United States.”
• Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Trump that Halkbank, a Turkish firm under investigation by American authorities for violating Iranian sanctions, was innocent. Trump “then told Erdogan that he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people.”
• More than once, Trump appeared to reassure Xi that he was right to build camps in Xinjiang for Uighur citizens. Trump also asked Bolton once why the U.S. was considering sanctions over China’s treatment of the Uighurs. (On Wednesday, after publication of Bolton’s allegations, Trump signed a bill calling for sanctions against those responsible for the repression of Uighur Muslims in China.)
• Trump implied in a conversation with Xi that constitutional limits on presidential terms should be repealed.
• Trump once came close to pulling the U.S. out of NATO on little more than a whim.
• In a meeting with then–U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump asked if Britain had nuclear weapons. Trump also once asked if Finland was part of Russia.*
• Trump frequently mixed up world leaders.
• He kept telling different advisers that they were in charge of border policy.
• Trump wrote a defense of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in order to take away from a negative story about Ivanka Trump.
• Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once slipped Bolton a note in a meeting that just said, “He is so full of shit.”
Correction, June 18, 2020: This post originally misspelled Theresa May’s first name.
For more of Slate’s news coverage, subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts or listen below.