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It was crushing to read weekend press reports that my friend and former boss John Bolton plans to publish a tell-all book on his time as President Trump’s National Security Adviser. The book reportedly will be published in March 2020. Given the importance of protecting a president’s confidential discussions with his senior advisers, I strongly disagree with Bolton’s decision to release the book before the November presidential election and call on him to withdraw it from the publisher immediately.
I have known John Bolton for 30 years and served as his chief of staff twice, at the State Department from 2001-2005 and at the White House National Security Council in 2018. He is an exceptional national security expert and a man of great integrity. President Trump’s choice of Bolton was one of his best personnel decisions and was I very sorry when the courageous and visionary national security adviser left the White House after the relationship broke down.
Bolton played an important role in some of President Trump’s most successful foreign policy decisions, including withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran, moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and the 2018 Counterterrorism Strategy. While there was some criticism of Bolton’s performance as National Security Adviser, most of it was unfair and reflected the difficulty of overseeing President Trump’s national security policies when careerists and Obama holdovers in other government agencies, especially the State Department, were actively working to obstruct and defeat the president’s policies.
Presidents must be able to candidly consult with their advisers without worrying they will leak these discussions to the press or obtain high-dollar book contracts to publish them. A book by a former national security adviser ahead of a president’s reelection bid may set a dangerous precedent since it could discourage future presidents from seeking advice from expert advisers on sensitive national security matters.
This is why executive privilege exists: to allow the president and other senior officials to keep certain communications and internal deliberations private if disclosing them would disrupt the functions or decision-making processes of the executive branch.
haven’t seen Bolton’s book manuscript and I don’t know what’s in it. I take Bolton and his staff at their word that they did not leak the manuscript to the New York Times. But I believe they are still responsible for this leak since Bolton’s explosive book was sent to the leak-prone National Security Council for a security review in December 2019 so the book could be published in the spring of 2020. It also is inexplicable how such a sensitive manuscript could be sent to the NSC in the middle of the impeachment process. Under such circumstances, a leak of the manuscript was all but certain.
If a manuscript of this sensitivity was to be published at all, this should happen after the election, not in the spring of 2020. I don’t understand the need for a former National Security Adviser to publish a tell-all book critical of a president he served, especially during a presidential reelection campaign that will determine the fate of the country. There will be a time for Bolton to speak out without appearing to try to tip a presidential election.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who stepped down in June 2011, published a devastating book titled “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” that detailed the incompetence of Vice President Joe Biden and the Obama National Security Council staff. But because he did not want his internal knowledge of the workings of the Obama administration and his interactions with President Obama to affect the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, Gates did not publish his book until January 2014.
Gates established a principled precedent on how senior advisers to presidents should write about their experiences. Given Ambassador Bolton’s long and distinguished record of government service, I believe it is vital that he follow this precedent.