What Were You Thinking?
My conversation with John Bolton. I had some questions.
“I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” — Donald Trump at CPAC
Retribution. Thanks for the clarification. And the warning.
Happy Monday. Let’s start the week by catching up:
Jim Jordan’s imploding clown car:
Rolling Stone: “Inside Jim Jordan’s Disastrous Search for a ‘Deep State’ Whistleblower.”
NYT: “G.O.P. Witnesses, Paid by Trump Ally, Embraced Jan. 6 Conspiracy Theories.”
CNN: “Jim Jordan’s first FBI whistleblowers face scrutiny from skeptical Democrats.”
That’s not the smell of napalm in the morning. It’s Brett Baier’s journalistic cred. “Inside the Panic at Fox News After the 2020 Election.”
Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, the two main anchors, suggested it was not enough to call a state based on numerical calculations, the standard by which networks have made such determinations for generations, but that viewer reaction should be considered….
[The] next day, with Mr. Biden’s lead in Arizona narrowing, Mr. Baier noted that Mr. Trump’s campaign was angry and suggested reversing the call. “It’s hurting us,” he wrote Mr. Wallace and others in a previously reported email. “The sooner we pull it even if it gives us major egg. And put it back in his column. The better we are. In my opinion.”
Larry Hogan is out of presidential race.
“I didn't want to have a pile-up of a bunch of people fighting. Right now, you have, you know, Trump and DeSantis at the top of the field. Soaking up all the oxygen, getting all the attention, and then a whole lot of the rest of us in single digits. And the more of them you have, the less chance you have for somebody rising up.”
Joe gets crime. Do his fellow Democrats?
The Hill: “House Democrats blindsided as Biden changes tune on DC crime bill.”
Daily Mail: “'F***ing amateur hour': Democrats fume at Biden for siding with Republicans on DC crime bill - and AOC says he should push harder for the capital to become its own state.”
Jill Lawrence in today’s Bulwark: “Joe Biden Wants You to Know He’s Not Soft on Crime.”
DOJ indictment watch. Via the Daily Beast: “How a New DOJ Memo Sets Up Two Potential Trump Indictments.”
When the Department of Justice took the position this week that former President Donald Trump acted improperly by urging his followers to attack Congress in 2021, prosecutors did more than open the door to a potential flood of civil lawsuits from police officers who were injured on Jan. 6.
What they actually did, according to legal scholars, is lay the groundwork for a potential criminal indictment against Trump for inciting the insurrection.
A low-energy but thoroughly Trumpified CPAC.
Nikki Haley was heckled, Kari Lake wins a straw poll, Marjorie Taylor Greene lied about Volodymyr Zelensky, and DJT unleashed the usual firehose of bullshit.
Sure, it’s ridiculous. But, as I said on Morning Joe today, it’s also a serious threat masquerading as a cultic circus cum clown car. This is what a Trump 2.0 would look like.
****Stay tuned for Tim Miller’s account of his excellent CPAC adventure in today’s Triad newsletter.****
Meanwhile, across town….
Regrets? John Bolton should have a few.
Over the weekend, at the Principles First Conference (which was fantastic) I had a chance to sit down with John Bolton, Trump’s former National Security Advisor. We’ll be posting the audio of the full interview in today’s Bulwark Podcast, so stay tuned.
My first question was: What were you thinking going to work for Donald Trump?…I'm reading your biography here: You know, Bolton is widely considered a foreign policy hawk, and is an advocate for military action and regime change by the US in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen and North Korea. (audience laughter) And so how did you not think going to work for a guy that was campaigning on America First — how did you not know that that would end badly?
During our interview, we talked about his serial defense of Trump’s relations with Putin, his refusal to voluntarily testify in the impeachment proceedings, and his decision to write a book instead. I may have more to say tomorrow after you all have a chance to listen, but here’s sample. (The transcript is edited for clarity.)
Charlie Sykes: [In your book, you write that Trump] said that it was a good idea to have these internment camps in China. He was offering favors to dictators, including the Turkish strongman. He did not know the United Kingdom was a nuclear power. He did not know that Finland was not part of Russia. And of course, you also write about what you colorfully called “The Drug Deal,” that was going down in Ukraine. You wrote about all of this, you put it in your book, but you wouldn’t testify voluntarily to the House when the impeachment of Donald Trump was up. Why not?
John Bolton: I felt that the impeachment effort was very ill advised. I thought it was inherently political by the Democrats, doing in a way exactly what they accused Trump of doing — of using the powers of government for partisan political purposes, which is what he was doing in Ukraine.
Charlie Sykes: This is not the same thing at all.
John Bolton: I think it is. Let me explain. (crosstalk/audience applauding)
Charlie Sykes: Now wait — impeachment is in the Constitution — it is part of our structure. Calling up and trying to shake down a foreign leader for political dirt is not the same thing. (audience cheering and applause/crosstalk)
John Bolton: I think it is. (audience applauding) What what they did was knowingly to try and focus the effort in a very narrow way — among other things to avoid interfering with the schedule for the Democratic presidential nomination, which was going to take place in 2020. They did it knowing, knowing that they couldn't get two-thirds in the Senate. And I called that “impeachment malpractice” because of the effect it had on Trump. Nancy Pelosi loves to say, ‘Trump will always be impeached.’ What she omits to say is, ‘Trump will always be acquitted.’ And the maneuver to impeach him and have him acquitted in the Senate empowered Trump. It had exactly the opposite effect of what the advocates of impeachment said.
Charlie Sykes: When you said it was impeachment malpractice . . . were you also suggesting that they should have looked at a lot of other things?
John Bolton: Absolutely….
Charlie Sykes: So what should they have done? When you say to broaden it out, should they have looked at the obstruction of justice with Erdoğan?
John Bolton: Sure, it depends on whether you’re serious about achieving an outcome by launching an impeachment process or whether you’re virtue-signaling: ‘Look at us, look how righteous we are’. . . .
Charlie Sykes: Okay, well that’s ironic, though, that you would suggest that they should have broadened it — to include some of the stuff that you have in your book — but were not willing to testify to. So, you’re criticizing them for not going deeper, but when you had the opportunity, and to go back ... (crosstalk)…
Charlie Sykes: Okay, so you told Bill Barr? [There may have been a trace of sarcasm in my voice.]
John Bolton: I talked to the attorney general — that’s right — and I went to the attorney general, I put that in the book too. And I told Bill Barr about some of these things with Erdogan, and some of the others. That’s, that’s his job. It’s not my job. . . .
Near the end, I asked him about regrets.
Charlie Sykes: So looking back, a lot of people in this room have a lot of regrets, about a lot of things. So do you regret the role you played in defending Donald Trump? Enabling Donald Trump? Giving him the cover? Going into his administration? In retrospect, do you think that you wish that your wife pulled you aside and said, ‘John, what are you thinking?’
John Bolton: She did. Yeah, I’m an Edith Piaf guy. You know, “Je ne regrette rien.” Somebody's going to be national security advisor. You want it to be Steve Bannon? Kash Patel? Because that’s what’s coming in the second term. And, you know. . . .
No, I don’t regret it at all. I knew what I was getting into.
As I say: I was wrong in that I thought that even Donald Trump would have to be disciplined by the gravity of the national security issues he had to face. But when I saw he wasn’t disciplined, it just reinforced in my mind that somebody who knew what was going on had to try and do the best they could.
You can listen to the whole thing on our podcast later today.
Speaking of the podcast. Look, I know that this may not last and these numbers bounce around quite a bit. But I want to give shoutout to all of our loyal listeners, guests, and amazing producer, Katie, and editor, Jason, for this:
Maybe, Just maybe, there is a market for non-tribal sanity after all. Who knew? But, really just thanks to everyone!
1. The Judge with the King Complex
Kim Wehle in this morning’s Bulwark: Should trial judges have the power to issue nationwide injunctions? A lawsuit over abortion drugs is the latest major case to raise the question.
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction that would immediately suspend all approvals of abortion-related drugs, alleging more specifically that the FDA’s 2000 action, and subsequent related actions the agency took, exceeded its authority under the Administrative Procedure Act; the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (FDAAA); and a regulation that authorizes the agency to approve on an “accelerated” basis medications “that have been studied for their safety and effectiveness in treating serious or life-threatening illnesses and that provide meaningful therapeutic benefit to patients over existing treatments.”
2. The Federal AI Shambles
Brent Orrell in today’s Bulwark:
As usual, the federal government is lagging significantly behind technological development. Thus it has always been and will always be. Our government is meant to move slowly; too much energy in the executive can lead to overregulation and endanger freedom. In an area as fast-moving as AI with its immense consequences for our economy and international competitiveness, we don’t need an activist federal government excessively slowing or limiting development.
"Retribution." And there you have it. The magic word spoken, for all to hear. That is the official GOP agenda now, lacking any countermanding messaging.
It should be an automatic disqualifier for any serious, legitimate aspirant for public office. I cannot remember another time when a major party candidate dared to speak so openly of wanting to tear down and destroy the loyal opposition -- not because it is right, rather simply because Trump can get away with it. It was jarring to watch the news yesterday and see lowlights of Trump's speech, calling for a party platform of grievance, anger, and destruction, at the expense of any semblance of a positive message and plan for all Americans, and then see Biden at the Pettus bridge, striving for unity and inclusion. One nation, two extremes of ideology. One builds a newer, better bridge. The other blows it up for the fun of it, with no plan to replace it.
How anyone can align with the GOP in such an obviously imbalanced either-or choice is beyond my ability to comprehend. But then we've learned: it's about the cruelty. Somehow. Their mothers must be so proud.
Am I the only one who finds you talking to Bolton under a sign saying "Principles First" an absolutely ironic, iconic, not to say sarcastic placement?