John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, seems to have undergone quite a transformation.
The evidence comes from a statement he made on Wednesday announcing Trump’s desire to postpone a meeting planned for the fall with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over,” Bolton said, “so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year.”
The key words there, in case you missed them, are “witch hunt.”
At first glance, it may not seem surprising that a Trump staffer would use one of the president’s favorite insults to describe special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to win the 2016 presidential election. (According to NBC News, Trump has tweeted the phrase 89 times as of Wednesday.)
But the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser summed up perfectly why Bolton’s statement was so stunning — and alarming.
Reminder: last year John Bolton called the Russian election interference “an act of war.”
Now as national security adviser he puts out an official statement calling investigation of said act of war “witch hunt.”
— Susan Glasser (@sbg1) July 25, 2018
That’s truly amazing. Before Bolton joined Trump’s White House, he established himself as a foreign policy hawk in previous Republican administrations and conservative intellectual circles. And while most of his ire seems directed at Iran and North Korea — he’s advocated for war with each country at various times — he’s also spared no sympathy for Russia.
As Glasser mentions in her tweet, Bolton referred to Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election as “a true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate,” last July.
The Washington Post also pointed out that Bolton used to criticize someone Trump admires:
Bolton also has a long history of making comments about the Russian president personally, suggesting a number of times that Putin has lied about global events. In response to Russia’s handling of the situation involving National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden in 2013, Bolton told Fox News that “we need to do things that cause [Putin] pain as well.”
It’s of course possible — more than likely, really — that Trump personally dictated the statement. If that’s the case, Bolton would be hard-pressed to tell the president he wouldn’t use “witch hunt” in an official statement.
But it’s also not the first time Bolton has done something he probably didn’t want to do. He’s advocated for striking North Korea over its nuclear program; North Korea, in return, has called him “human scum.” Yet during Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Bolton found himself shaking hands with the dictator (see the photo on the left).
North Korean state media included the part where Kim Jong Un shook hands with John Bolton (previously known as “bloodsucking human scum” in North Korea.) Also caught Bolton writing notes before they even sat down pic.twitter.com/yTybEN2V1C
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) June 14, 2018
So after just over three months as Trump’s top national security aide, Bolton has had to act against his stated views on Russia (and North Korea). His latest statement is just another example of how time with the president has changed him.