What’s John Bolton’s Game?

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S1: What you’re about to listen to may include some party talk. Then again, it may not.

S2: I hope it does, though. Hey, do you want to listen to the gist at home on your aleksa? Turns out we at Slate have built a new Aleksa skill, were perfecting it. So what you do is you say, Alexa, enable the gist to enable the skill on your Alexa device, and then you begin playing the show and to play it after that you can say, Alexa, play the gest first enable, then play it just on the Alexa.

S3: It’s Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 from Slate’s The Gist. I’m Mike PESCA. If you told me that the cost for killing a man as bad and as good at being bad as KSM Suleimani would be that some missiles would be fired at a base in Iraq and hurt zero people, I would say actually seems like a fair cost to pay.

S4: Only I do not believe that will be the sum total of the costs. Ian Bremmer, smart guy multiple times just guests tweeted today I’m far from a Trump supporter, but impossible not to call Iran outcome a win for U.S. president and a big opportunity going forward. Outcome we’re not sure we’re past. Incoming. You may have forgotten you, the listener, not yet, not hungry, and now you may not be alive to have experienced this. You may be in denial about this. But soon after U.S. troops rolled into Baghdad, this was after a huge debate had played out between hawks and doves and within the Democratic Party and reluctant hawks and vials of powder were held by Colin Powell and yellowcake and Curveball. So after all that, the Iraqi army was rounded much more easily than had been predicted. And the overwhelming consensus among Americans was, huh? It was a lot easier than I thought. No city to city fighting, no thousands of U.S. troops. Khazaei seemed worth it. That’s because we thought it was the outcome. It was just the inception. Ian Bremmer went on to tweet. But for everyone who thought killing Suleimani was going to lead to war, no, it just established red lines and deterrence. How does he even know what it will lead to? There’s a few days after the fact Archduke Ferdinand was killed June 28, 1914. World War 1 wasn’t declared until July 28, and that was seen as something that happened pretty much immediately. Let us see how both parties, the United States and Iran, decide to escalate or to de-escalate. And I just want to remind everyone, perhaps to inform you, if you weren’t aware of this, that Iran is really good at taking its time. I doubt they will for ever be deterred from all actions from this incident. Here’s a little history lesson. 10 years ago was actually literally 10 years ago this Saturday in Iranian physics. Professor Masood Al Mohammadi was killed with a sticky bomb outside his home. So Iran vowed revenge. Here now is Dr Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. I hope to have him on the just soon. Here he was testifying before Congress a couple of years ago on how long Iran waited to take revenge. Also, please note the specific military unit involved as they’re arguing with each other.

S5: In January 2010, someone assassinated Professor Mohammad Day in Tehran with a sticky bomb. Professor Mohammadi was a particularly important person in Iran’s nuclear program. And at that point, Iran decides that two things will happen. The one is that the Quds Force will create a new unit, Quds Force Unit 400, specifically to target Western diplomats abroad and also targets reflecting Israel. That is to say, Jewish targets, for example, a plot in Baku targeting two Jewish rabbis in a Jewish school. And the second is that Hezbollah would get its act together, would re-energize itself, rejuvenate the Islamic Jihad organization, recruit people with foreign passports who could travel abroad and begin to target Israeli tourists worldwide.

S4: It did happen happened almost two years after. Hezbollah and Iran, which are all but indistinguishable for the purposes that we’re talking about, noted that a plane from Tel Aviv had landed in Bulgaria on the way from the airport to the hotel, that the bus carrying the passengers was bombed. Those passengers, 42 Israelis, mostly teens. The bomb killed the bus driver and five Israelis and injured 32 Israelis. That is just part of the tit for tat. There were many other missions and that was one of the earliest missions. And it happened more than two years after the initial incident. For over 30 years, Iran has largely stayed away from targeting, specifically targeting American civilians. And I think it’s reasonable to worry that they could start now. I am extremely confident in saying this isn’t over. We’ve not concluded we’ve commenced. I can’t I just can’t see it ending with an airstrike that creates rubble, but no deaths. The Iranians have dubbed that airstrike, that rubble. They dubbed it Operation Martyr. So Lamani history shows this is not how they avenge what they consider to be a martyrdom on the show today. I speak about one reporter who has stood up to Trump before. He’s now standing up with his chest, thrust out just a little bit too much. But first, he had a lot of questions, not even about Iran. Well, I’ve got one question. What next with Iran? But lots of questions that I have about a guy who doesn’t question anything about a war with Iran. He likes it, but he has also said he’s willing to take questions from the Senate. He’s John Bolton. He says he will talk. But will Mitch McConnell let him, Mike?

S1: Adam Schiff ask instead. And if he does, what does he have to say? Does he even want to say it? Does McConnell know that he knows? And does he know that McConnell knows that he knows? And therefore, will he or won’t he allow damaging testimony? Or will he or won’t he allow irrelevant testimony? See, this all gets complicated with all these questions. Slate’s Jim Newell drops by to provide some answers. Early’s to entertain the questions in an entertaining way.

S6: John Bolton, former national security adviser, will testify before the Senate. Or maybe the House of Representatives if asked nicely or actually legally, but what will he say? What did he hear? Will they ask? Why is he offering? It’s not often that I do an interview and ask all the questions first, but I guess that’s what’s happened now. Jim Newell is the senior politics writer at a nice little web outlet called Slate.com. We’re to try to figure out what could be going on and what John Bolton’s game is. Hello, Jim. Hey, how are you? So I’m good. First, let’s talk about Bolton. He’s smart, right? He’s not. There are some members of the Trump administration, maybe not the, you know, most proficiently tipped missiles in the silo, but Bolton Sharp.

S7: Yeah, I think there’s a pretty good chance of boldness thought through what he’s done. So he has some sort of reason he’s not just winging it here. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, it’s just a matter of either, you know, as we’re going to talk about, there’s so many different possibilities for why and we’re not really exactly sure just yet.

S6: OK. So we don’t know what he knows. Unless you think that there is any inkling or way to draw suppositions out of evidence to try to figure out what he knows about what Trump said or did. As regards the Ukraine deal. Am I right? It’s pretty it’s pretty much a black box. What he knows.

S7: Yeah, I think there’s probably a good chance that he knows a lot. I think it’s more a question of how much does he want to say, you know, does he want to come out with everything he’s got? You know, in which case that might not be very good for the president. Or does he want to sort of just say, I can’t recall or no comment, which would, you know, indicate that he’s maybe trying to help the president? So it really you know, it’s really just about sort of what his intention is in how far he wants to go with saying what he knows.

S8: Right. So that’s true. We don’t know what he knows. And we think there’s an open question as to if he wants to harm or help the president. Is that accurate? I think so.

S7: I mean, when you think about someone like Bolton, here’s someone who has been part and parcel of the conservative movement his entire life. It’s his career. You know, if he were to come out against the president, it really help bolster the case against him. You know, that would really be very damaging for him personally. I think not just, you know, professionally, but he would almost have an identity crisis to do that. But, you know, if he really does feel strongly that it’s what the moment requires, then maybe he could go through with it. I think just knowing who he is, you know, a pretty loyal soldier within the Republican Party, that’s enough to make you question how far he wants to go.

S8: Right. And a week and a half ago, though, I would say. But is he really on board with the president? You know, Bolton’s very hawkish and the president isn’t. And the president has said, though, he’s been more derogatory about other things. But then there was this assassination of Suleimani. Maybe you heard about it. And then I was thinking, OK, so is this it? Perhaps. Could this serve as a message to Bolton?

S6: I mean, this is pretty much Bolton’s biggest, biggest wish in the Middle East. And he got what he wanted. So is this Trump offering him an olive branch by way of missile attack or might this now free Bolton? Might he said, you know, this is what I want to get what I wanted. There is nothing really for me to do except cut the president’s knees out from under him because I don’t like what I saw.

S7: Yeah. I mean, it sounds kind of like conspiratorial when you think it, but it’s like impossible not to think about. I mean, he does like the one geopolitical thing that John Bolton, you know, it’s like fought his entire career for, you know, really going after and launching kinetic action against Iran. And then a week later, he’s saying he’s he’s willing to testify. I mean, it would really I mean, it’s just very hard not to not to try to put those two dots together. But again, we you know, we don’t actually know.

S1: Do you think Mitch McConnell knows what he’s going to say?

S7: I’m not sure that Mitch McConnell does. I don’t know. You know, I’m not sure what kind of heads up he was given or not. I. You know, Mitch McConnell might know that it’s unlikely. That Republicans will call Bolton just because of the way they’ve laid out this process. So maybe Bolton can read the numbers too, and maybe he thought that too. Maybe he’ll say, I’m prepared to testify just as a way of legally covering himself, knowing that there’s a very slim chance of it happening. But I don’t I don’t think that Mitch McConnell knows exactly what John Bolton might say.

S6: And what conclusions might we draw from the fact that he waited for a legal process in terms of a subpoena for his aide to play out in the courts? What does that mean? I. There are some people saying if John Bolton wants testify to testify. And obviously by saying, well, there’s subpoena and I can testify, that means John Bolton doesn’t want to testify. But then again, that was proved not to be true when there ceased to be a subpoena. He said, OK, now I’ll testify.

S7: Yeah, it may have just been that he didn’t want to do it before the House Democrats and the investigation they were running. And he may have waited until, you know, a little bit French friendlier terrain and maybe what he viewed as like a more neutral terrain way until it got to the Senate to see if he’s available. But also, there’s the question, you know, if he’s saying right now, legally, I’ve decided that if I’m subpoenaed, I have to come in and talk. The House could subpoena him right now and try to get me to talk. And then would be very interesting to see, you know, if they tried to Jerry rig some kind of legal justification for why he can talk in the Senate, but not in the House. But it doesn’t seem that the House is going to go down that path. I was in the Capitol the other day. And Adam Schiff, you know, he told a bunch of us that, you know, we’re not going to rule anything out. But, you know, it’s probably comes down to the Senate now, and the focus should be on getting him to to testify there.

S6: Sorry to shift this game theory, but let’s talk about why Schiff would say that. Obviously, if he said, OK, well, haven’t talked in the house, that will take off any pressure in the Senate. So he wants to put maximum pressure on the Senate. But if what he really wants and I think he does is to have all the facts come out, and if he also believes that Bolton has damaging facts to lay out there, why wouldn’t Schiff want him to testify in front of the house if that’s the only way to get him to testify?

S7: You know, I just think it may be a timeline thing. I think the House really wants to bear down the pressure on, you know, Susan Collins and Cory Gardner and lobby senators who could vote for witnesses. I don’t think they want to muddy the process more and have it come back to the house. And then that would just sort of confuse everything. I mean, I’m not I’m not entirely sure, you know, why. Why they’re so resolute. I think it’s just about not trying to muddy the waters at this point.

S6: OK. So I’ve only had questions, but I have, I think made a conclusion based on what you said, that indicates to me that Adam Schiff does not believe that John Bolton is the smoking gun, because if he was the smoking gun, he wouldn’t shift, wouldn’t care about timelines and timing and muddying waters that he would blow the mud out of the water if you were the smoking gun. So it says to me that Schiff at least suspects if a timeline is more important than Bolton’s testimony, that Schiff at least suspects that Bolton’s testimony won’t end this whole thing right there.

S7: I mean, that could be right or could be something where you have Bolton. You know, if he testified in the house. And then that just leads you to want to add more witnesses in the house. And the house process just keeps going on for a while. And then that gives Senate Republicans more time to think about why, you know, it doesn’t necessarily really matter. On the other hand, you can have a Senate trial where you’re hearing the same facts you’ve heard before and people’s impressions of whether that’s impeachable or not already baked in. But if you had some sort of bombshell come out during the Senate trial, I mean, maybe that could, you know, in the moment make it a little more difficult for for Senate Republicans.

S8: Right. So before this interview, we were texting back and forth and I was throwing out some hypotheticals. One, Bolton is nothing substantive to add, but was committed to going through a process of following a subpoena just because the guy loved the law. Now, that seems unlikely. Or two, he has nothing to add and really didn’t want to be bothered. But now he figures, oh, it’s just not worth fighting. I don’t know about that. How about this? He does have something to add and he really does want to damage the president, but doesn’t want to seem didn’t want to seem too eager to do so. Could that be true?

S7: It could be true. I mean, again, it doesn’t look it doesn’t match with our timeline about Iran. You know him, the president doing what Bolton wanted on Iran. And then suddenly, just a week later, you know, really wanted to come out and take down the president. But I don’t. It could be. It could be. But. I think he does have. I think it’s likely they does have something damaging on the president. We just don’t know how willing he is to say it.

S8: Yeah. So maybe this was a possibility for he does have something to add, something substantive or you said damaging ad but he figures because of politics, McConnell will never call him. So this is an escape route where he looks good and he could blame someone else for not being heard.

S7: Yeah, I think that is pretty likely, huh?

S8: And here’s the last one. This is the triple reverse bank shot. He has nothing to add. Is baiting the Democrats into calling him. He knows it will get a lot of attention. Then it will look like a nothing burger. He’ll come out looking like he satisfied the law, but he was also ultimately help the anti impeachment forces.

S7: Right. So I think that one is also very likely. This one does the opposite things.

S9: You said two opposite things are very like. Right. I mean, it it could be opposite things.

S7: I’m just thinking what’s likely? You know, like one of those seem to be the most two realistic options. I mean, I think it could go either way. And. Yeah, can I add my my one last thing. Yeah. Okay. It’s sort of a variation. The last one. But John Bolton has a book coming out and he wants to keep himself in the news enough so he’ll offer something in the trial. That’s pretty juicy, though. Maybe not juicy enough to take Trump down, which will get him a lot of attention, a lot more hype for his book.

S4: How about that, huh? Is there is this like a long con podcast ploy? Is that what’s going on? He wants to he wants to flip the book into a twelve part podcast.

S10: I think so. I think he might be gunning for your job, actually, if he really just wanted attention, couldn’t he? And Omarosa, do you know, a theater tour or something like this? That’s true. I mean, you can’t really beat the attention of like a new witness in an impeachment trial. I mean, that’s really good stuff that, you know, that’s gold. Yeah. Maybe he’ll just, you know, get up there and he’ll just tease out something else that you have to read later when his book comes out. Yeah. Maybe he’ll be like Joe Biden and give out a web address that’s actually like a text number and not understand what’s going on. Right. Right. Last question is and this is a legit question that I’m sure you bnf. So what’s the likelihood that I think it’s for Republicans have to break ranks and get him to testify, assuming that no Democrats like, say, from West Virginia also break ranks and, you know, give a vote to McConnell?

S7: Yeah, I think that you’ll have Democrats pretty unified when they do have this vote. mid-Trial to to try and compel not just Bolton, but a couple of other figures who they’ve been trying to get, whether you can get four Republicans to join them. I think that the way the trial structure and I think McConnell did this intentionally, you’ll hear all the opening arguments. You’ll have the first rounds of questions from senators to the impeachment managers and the defense. And then I think Republican leadership will say, okay, I think we’ve heard enough. We don’t really need to hear anymore. We’ve gone through exactly what the house gave us and we don’t think it’s enough. So we don’t really need to call more witnesses. Democrats are just trying to drag this out indefinitely. Yeah. And I think that will be an argument that maybe helps him keep from losing for Republicans. Is it’s gonna happen. When is what the impeachment froggen knows? I think Nancy Pelosi, once she sees the impeachment rules in plain text that McConnell is, you know, he that he has the votes for. I think she’ll transmit the articles then and that could be by the end of this week and then, you know, within the next couple of weeks the trial to get started. Oh, my God.

S10: So there’s pretty much no chance that it’s that these senators who are vying for the votes of Iowans will be able to leave and, you know, hit the hustings in Des Moines. Yeah.

S7: Yeah. Well, it depends how much money you have. Like Bernie has a lot of campaign money. So apparently he’s thinking about chartering flights so he can go back and do events at night and then fly back to D.C. So that may not work so well for, you know, Michael Bennett or someone with fewer resources.

S9: Is actually a transportation issue. What we’re talking about the transportation issue. Yeah. I mean, you can’t do stuff during the day, but like, you know, that’s what it comes down to. It’s. Have you given enough money to charter a flight?

S7: Right. Right. I know. Maybe bertarelli nice. And take his competitors with him. We’ll say.

S4: Oh yeah. But then they’d have to declare the fair value and pay back the Sanders campaign. That could get right. Yeah. Jim Newell is the senior politics writer at Slate. This is one of those interviews where no questions were answered. But I think much was gained just in the asking. Thank you, Jim. Thank you. I hope we confused everyone more.

S9: I know.

S11: I mean, it wasn’t our goal, but I think I think we did strike a couple of these possibilities off the table and those will be palpably be the actual answers in the end. Thank you, Jim. Thank you.

S4: And now the schpiel in 2016. Maureen Dowd in The New York Times wrote an article headlined Hillary the Hawk, Donald the Dove becausewell mostly because of alliteration, but also because Hillary, you know, she’s kind of hawkish. But how do you explain, Donald, so-called dovishness? It is true that he wants to end U.S. missions abroad at the same time. He’s always blathering about the power and the might and the fire and the fury. He endorsed torture on the campaign trail. He mused about destroying Iranian cultural sites. Is he just rhetorically or literally belligerent? Here is my take. Donald Trump likes endorsing war crimes more than he likes committing to war. In fact, the war crimes seem to be his favorite part of war. He pardoned sailors and Marines who commit war crimes. He brags about doing that. He brags about the United States doing war crimes for him. War is hell, but war crimes, they’re pretty cool. That’s why it’s really dangerous and irresponsible to goad the president into further fits of pique. I would think that sensible people would want de-escalation and having watched the coverage of the missile strikes. I think de-escalation should include rhetoric. Let us take CNN’s Jim Acosta, who is famously tangled with Trump. Trump’s lackeys, Trump supporters. Acosta had his credential stripped temporarily in a Trump administration overreach. He early on first day on the job, pressed the administration about its lies, about exaggerations, about inaugural size. That was right there on day one. And he’s been at it and he has tried to hold Trump’s feet to the fire. And that’s good. But he also has a flair for the dramatic, which doesn’t always play well when the situation calls for the understated. On CNN last night, filling time in the hours and hours after the strikes went down, he told viewers this kind of fashion.

S12: I was talking to a source close to the White House earlier this evening who said essentially that the president has built everything up to this point where he now has no other choice but to respond with some kind of massive retaliation and that he’s going to look weak if he doesn’t go down that road. And so the president has boxed himself in, Don, with his own rhetoric. We’ve seen this before. And the question is how the president responds at this point. He’s going to do this.

S1: Well, I don’t know if the president’s boxed himself in with his rhetoric, but I know that you stating that he’s boxed himself into not looking weak does serve a little bit to box him in so that he doesn’t want to look weak. Trump doesn’t want to look weak. This is a reporter conveying something from an an anonymous source. Who is it? Chris Ruddy, John Bolton, our Trump Scouter smoochie, saying, well, if Trump doesn’t strike back, Trump’s going to look weak. What is that person’s agenda? Does he or she want to strike and knows that saying strike, you won’t look weak is a way to get a strike? Or does he or she not want to strike? And is this person earnestly bemoaning what he thinks is going on? We know the president obsesses over cable news. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the president was watching. Jim Acosta wants to say suckage, Jim Acosta, and knows that he has tangled with Jim Acosta as much as anyone in the White House press corps. What form might a presidential fit of rage? How dare you call me weak fit? What form might that take? It all seems very dangerous. It seems to me that Jim Acosta is also not adding much actual information in the moment, dangerously dangling out unsourced charges or insults and print and positioning himself as a presidential antagonist rather than a removed party. Further strikes me that this is a highly tense, highly fraught moment where the president may be making decisions that affect the lives of his countrymen in the world and the world for years to come. We know he’s emotional. We know he gets his information from TV. Why would CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta go on television and via an anonymous source, beat the president later in that very appearance?

S12: Acosta said this quoting and or maybe that very same anonymous source, but that this is a president who is impulsive and doesn’t think through the implications of his actions. Now, that may work OK for the president when he is look for a short term political fix on the border when it comes to brinkmanship with China on trade and so on. But this is a very different situation. I mean, people are saying tonight, well, maybe the Iranians intentionally meant to, you know, hit areas away from these soldiers. My goodness. What if the Iranians had not done that and actually taken out a lot of U.S. troops tonight? This could have been a massive catastrophe of proportions that we just can’t fully appreciate. And so this was this was a dangerous night at the casino for President Trump.

S1: OK, I agree with Acosta on a lot of that. But this is not the proper tone for a White House correspondent. It’s not egregious or even inaccurate analysis, but it is analysis. It’s not reporting. CNN should stick with this reporter as long as he’s reporting and reporting hard and challenging all the lies and also surfacing alternative views and hopefully giving us some context as to where those alternative views are coming from. But you have to be careful in giving the mike and the imprimatur of a company to him at this precise moment, to a guy who seems to get kind of a thrill at tangling with Trump, who has written a book about it. Who has this to say about Trump?

S13: It was a it was an illuminating moment because it said to me that, you know, here’s here’s a guy who can’t really take the heat, can’t take the coverage. And so that is part of the reason why we saw the rhetoric escalate throughout the campaign. And I think it’s why we’ve seen the rhetoric escalate as he’s been president, because to a large extent. And I you know, I don’t take any joy in saying this. He cannot handle the scrutiny.

S1: Not untrue. But in this moment, this specific moment. Let’s not be calling Trump scared, stupid out of options or weak precisely because we all know he’s not strong enough to handle that.

S14: And that’s it for today’s show. The Gist was produced by Daniel Shrader, who has decided to step away from his royal duties and also to renounce any claim he has to the throne of England. The gist? There was a last Bolton possibility we haven’t mentioned never plants testify. He never wanted to be subpoenaed. But he does plan to reveal himself as the masked singer and put adepero to Peru.

S15: And thanks for listening.