President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced in a tweet that he has fired National Security Adviser John Bolton, saying he disagreed with many policy stances from his hawkish aide.
Bolton disputed the president’s account of his leaving the White House, tweeting moments after Trump’s announcement that he had offered to resign Monday, but Trump put him off until Tuesday.
Trump appointed Charles Kupperman, who had been deputy national security adviser, as acting national security adviser.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contradicted Bolton, saying later Tuesday that Trump asked for his resignation Monday evening and received it on Tuesday.
“He should have people he trusts and values,” Pompeo said of his boss during a rare White House briefing. “When the president makes a decision like this he’s well within his rights to do so.”
Asked if the firing of Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk, could lead to a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the Islamic republic's nuclear program and actions across the Middle East as soon as later this month, Pompeo replied, “Sure.”
Pompeo said he is “never surprised” when asked if Trump’s Twitter firing of Bolton caught him off guard.
The briefing, ostensibly about new counterterrorism sanctions Trump ordered one day before the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, turned feisty when CNN's Jim Acosta asked if the National Security Council “is a mess.”
Principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley was standing just offstage, and muttered, “Is CNN a mess?”
In the days before Bolton’s exit, Trump reportedly had been concerned he was leaking to the press.
To that end, reporters from Fox News and the Washington Post took to Twitter saying Bolton was sending them text messages after Trump’s announcement giving his side of the story. For instance, Robert Costa of the Washington Post and PBS tweeted he got one in which the fired official wrote: "Let’s be clear, I resigned, having offered to do so last night."
In announcing the firing, Trump wrote that he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration.”
“Therefore........I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service,” the President tweeted. “I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”
I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
Most recently, the president froze Bolton out of internal deliberations about his Afghanistan policy.
....I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
Trump's Twitter announcement came about an hour after White House staff issued a statement announcing a briefing with Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. It was just one more example of a president who often keeps his senior staff in the dark.
There was no single flashpoint that led Trump to fire Bolton, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told reporters. Nor was their recent differences over Trump’s desire to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“They had policy disagreements,” she said when asked if Bolton’s advice on using military force was more aggressive than Trump wanted. As a candidate, the president vowed to untangle the U.S. from its post-9/11 Middle East conflicts.
Grisham also declined comment when asked by Roll Call if there is an “acting” national security adviser who has assumed Bolton’s duties until Trump selects a permanent replacement.
Bolton was Trump’s third national security adviser and is merely the latest security official to leave the administration. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, for instance, departed last year after clashing with Trump over his Syria policy.
Bolton replaced Army Gen. H.L. McMaster, who resigned in March 2018.
Bolton tweeted moments after Trump’s announcement that he offered to resign Monday night but that Trump told him, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, "Let's talk about it tomorrow."— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) September 10, 2019
Trump reportedly had been concerned Bolton was leaking to the media. To that end, reporters from Fox News and the Washington Post took to Twitter saying he was sending them text messages. For instance, Robert Costa of the Washington Post and PBS, tweeted he got one in which the fired official wrote: "Let’s be clear, I resigned, having offered to do so last night."
On the timing of Bolton’s departure, Gidley, also contradicted Bolton’s account of his resignation.
“Whatever Donald Trump does, it’s in the best interest of the American people,” Gidley said. “The president sets the agenda,” he added when asked about Bolton’s often-hawkish advice.
But he made clear the commander in chief is looking for a replacement more willing to follow orders, minutes after saying Trump wants advisers who sometimes disagree with him.
“He wants someone who can carry out his agenda. He ran on getting out of some of these wars that we’ve been in for decades,” Gidley said, calling America’s post-9/11 wars “disgusting” conflicts that have wasted too much money than the government can accurately track.
Senate Foreign Relations Democratic member Christopher S. Murphy called Bolton’s firing part of a broader trend under Trump that is “just chilling,” expressing concerns about “the instability of American foreign policy today.”
“I obviously had no love for John Bolton’s policy, but the idea that our allies have no one to talk to and no consistency to American voices around the world is really dangerous,” Murphy said. “Did Donald Trump just figure out that John Bolton was a military hawk? Did it just come to his attention that John Bolton was going to recommend military intervention in all corners of the world?... I think it’s super dangerous for us and the world and somebody’s got to convince this president to get his act together.”
Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, also a Foreign Relations member, broke with Trump over the firing and his view of Bolton’s policy beliefs.
“The loss of John Bolton from senior leadership in foreign policy is an extraordinary loss for our nation and for the White House, in my opinion. John Bolton is a brilliant man with decades of experience in foreign policy. His point of view was not always the same as everybody else in the room,” Romney said. “That's why you wanted him there.
“The fact that he was a contrarian from time to time is an asset, not a liability. I’m very, very unhappy to hear that he's leaving,” Romney said. “It is a huge loss for the administration in my opinion and for the nation to have John Bolton no longer going to be at the table on matters related to foreign policy.”
— Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.
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