Several Republicans this week took direct shots at Bolton, a neoconservative once heralded as the gold standard for the GOP on foreign policy and national security issues.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Bolton is “somebody who thought he was being hired to be the commander-in-chief, and he wasn’t.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he found it hard to take seriously “anyone who claims to have witnessed treason and obstruction of justice and tells about it in a book.”
“Every meeting I’ve been in with John Bolton, he views himself as the smartest person in the room,” added Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP leader. “He thinks he should be president, speaker of the House and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court all at the same time.”
Barrasso also accused Bolton of becoming “the darling of the liberal left.” But that’s not exactly true, either. Despite producing several new vivid anecdotes that could launch new congressional investigations targeting the Trump administration, Bolton has few friends in the opposition party.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Bolton “cares more about his book than he did public service.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Bolton is “obviously interested in making money, not saving the Republic.”
On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday criticized Bolton for not testifying during the impeachment trial and said she’ll meet with committee chairs to discuss whether to haul him in to speak to lawmakers.
And it’s not just Capitol Hill Democrats who once tried to subpoena Bolton and Republicans who feel like he’s turned on the party to juice his book sales. The Trump administration is suing him in an attempt to block publication of the book even as it’s set to be released in the coming days.
Asked about the timing of Bolton’s book and his credibility, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) declared: “Nothing about that smells right. The House is frustrated by it, we are frustrated about it.”
In his forthcoming memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” Bolton makes a series of explosive claims and argues that House Democrats focused their impeachment investigation too narrowly on the president’s posture toward Ukraine and suggests Trump may have committed multiple impeachable offenses.
Bolton alleges that Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy American agricultural products to help him win reelection, and that the president encouraged Xi to continue building concentration camps for the Uighurs, a religious minority in the country’s Xinjiang region.
Several senior Republicans indicated they had no interest in discussing Bolton’s bombshell claims, questioning both his credibility and his motivations. It’s a somewhat painful moment for the hawkish Republican Party, which once found itself in lockstep with Bolton on many issues.
“I don’t have anything to say about it, because he’s selling books,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. He also downplayed any suggestion that Bolton should testify.
“I have no ill feeling towards John Bolton. Do you want to ask me about any policy questions?” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
In January, Bolton said he would be willing to testify as part of the Senate impeachment trial under subpoena; but just two Republicans — Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) — joined Democrats in the failed effort to hear from additional witnesses. Several Republicans said they didn’t need to hear from Bolton in order to conclude that Trump did, in fact, solicit Ukraine’s help in the 2020 presidential election, even as they determined that it was not impeachable.
“The question for me was, did I need to hear more evidence to prove that the president did what the Democrats accused him of doing. And I said no because I’m convinced he did it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who was essentially the deciding vote on the witness question.
Still, Bolton resisted efforts to testify before House impeachment investigators — even threatening to challenge a subpoena in court if Democrats issued one to him, citing directives from the White House.
“He did it to maximize book sales. He felt like if he gave away information before, it would hurt his book sales,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “And so he held back even when it would be valuable to the nation.”
Democrats also took issue with Bolton’s criticisms of the impeachment inquiry, arguing that he should have testified if he felt that he had relevant information to share.
“Bolton himself says if the Democrats just asked the right questions the impeachment might have turned differently,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “Mr. Bolton, why didn’t you come forward and testify to this effect while we were conducting an impeachment trial?”
Members of Bolton’s staff, however, testified voluntarily during the impeachment inquiry, something that Democrats regularly pointed out as they decried Bolton’s “unpatriotic” refusal, as House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) put it in statements filled with criticism.
“For the first time in my 14-year political career I agree with Adam Schiff,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). He said of Bolton’s book: “I got a long reading list ahead of me and it’s not going to go to the top of the stack.”
But Democrats may find Bolton’s book more enticing. And they were quick to not dismiss Bolton’s claims outright, saying that many of them fit into a pattern for Trump. Both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said they found Bolton credible, while Brown said Bolton likely had documents to back himself up.
“I understand that given his motivations, people might question what he’s written. That’s a logical skepticism,” Murphy said. “But what he’s written seems consistent with everything we’ve watched Trump do publicly for the past three years.”
Senate Democrats are pushing for additional information on many of Bolton’s assertions, most notably his allegations involving Trump’s conversations with Xi.
“Regardless of whether you believe it or not, it needs to be tested because some of the issues presented in the book, if true, in my view undermine the interests of the United States,” said New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
The GOP-controlled Senate, though, is unlikely to pursue Bolton’s account of working at the White House.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the interim chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, demurred on whether he was interested in bringing Bolton before the panel to question him about the classified aspects of his memoir. Rubio declined to take sides in the battle between Bolton and Trump, who has repeatedly accused Bolton of lying.
Bolton doesn’t seem to have many friends left within the Trump administration, either. Hours after explosive details from the manuscript emerged, the Justice Department asked a federal judge for an emergency order to block publication of Bolton’s book, which is slated for public release on Tuesday and has already been shipped to some sellers.
The Justice Department argued that Bolton’s book contains classified information — an apparent acknowledgment that many of the details in the book are true. Yet Trump and his allies have dubbed Bolton a liar, saying he fabricated the anecdotes included in the book.
“Bolton’s book, which is getting terrible reviews, is a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “Many of the ridiculous statements he attributes to me were never made, pure fiction. Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he is!”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.