Booking Trump

It was 1968 and Jack Lord was Detective Captain Stephen “Steve” McGarrett, the head of a special state police task force in Hawaii, and each episode of that particular cop show ended the same way. They caught the bad guys and McGarrett would turn to his second-in-command – “Book ’em, Danno!”

Danny “Danno” Williams was played by James MacArthur, Helen Hayes’ son. The show ran for twelve seasons, but those three words lived on – “Book ’em, Danno!” For many years that was a clever way to say it was all over for some fool. They were toast.

And now it’s Donald Trump’s turn. Frank Bruni notes this:

Trump has incensed and alarmed officials and staffers in all kinds of institutions and all corners of the government. He has burned through personnel like a pyromaniac.

And that’s just over the three and a half years of his presidency. His path to it is strewn with betrayed business associates, duped clients, ditched friends and estranged family members. Their reticence, to the extent that they practiced it, has always existed in proportion to his potency. The weaker he seems to become, the chattier they’re likely to be.

And that’s happening:

Yes, I know, Trump has survived the display of piles of his dirty laundry before, readily recasts unethical behavior as boldness and blithely dismisses horror over his antics as the last gasps of a faltering establishment…

But there comes a tipping point when the people who saw you up close and cringe at the memory cannot be shrugged off.

And they write books. “Book ’em, Danno!” They book Trump, and with this book it’s too late to do much about that:

The Justice Department on Wednesday night sought an emergency order from a judge to block the publication of former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming White House memoir, escalating a legal battle against the former Trump aide even after many of his book’s most explosive details had spilled out into public view.

The move came after the administration filed a civil suit against Bolton on Tuesday, targeting the proceeds of the book and asking a court to order him to delay its scheduled June 23 release. Less than 24 hours later, the Wall Street Journal released an excerpt of the memoir, and lengthy accounts were published by other news organizations.

Wednesday’s move sought to formally enjoin Bolton from allowing his book to be published, a legal strategy experts said was unlikely to succeed, particularly given that the book has already been printed and shipped to warehouses and copies distributed to the media for review.

In short, Trump is toast:

In a statement, Bolton’s publisher called the court filing “a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility. Hundreds of thousands of copies of John Bolton’s ‘The Room Where It Happened’ have already been distributed around the country and the world. The injunction as requested by the government would accomplish nothing.”

Still, the legal show of force could satisfy President Trump, who urged aides Wednesday to seek to block the publication of the book, despite warnings that the prospects of victory in such a suit would not be strong, according to people familiar with his remarks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

This is a matter of keeping the boss happy. A massive but useless legal show of force is still a massive show of force. That may make the boss feel better, or this will:

Even if the legal maneuvering has failed to stop the book’s contents from reaching the public, experts said Bolton could ultimately be forced to turn over proceeds from the book to the government.

Trump can still ruin the man, if only financially, and Trump is furious:

Trump, who has called Bolton a “traitor” and was incensed that he walked out of the White House with copious notes, has told allies he’d like to see Bolton be charged, according to people familiar with his remarks.

The president made clear his desire to see that happens earlier in the week, telling reporters that Bolton could face “criminal problems” if his book is released.

“I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified,” said the president, speaking at an event with Attorney General William P. Barr.

Of course that’s all bluster:

Bolton’s memoir, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” an account of his 19 months as President Trump’s top national security official, offers a withering portrait of Trump as an erratic and ignorant leader who constantly places his own personal whims above the national interest…

Barring further court action by the government, by law, Bolton is not required to respond to the Justice Department civil suit for 20 days – weeks after the book’s publication date. The case is not likely to be decided until the fall, at the earliest.

Trump can scream that he’ll sue everyone in sight and that he’ll ruin them, that their lives will be over, but this is over. Book him. The charges are that he’s an erratic and ignorant leader who constantly places his own personal whims above the national interest. The New York Times’ Peter Baker runs down the charge sheet:

John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, says in his new book that the House in its impeachment inquiry should have investigated President Trump not just for pressuring Ukraine but for a variety of instances when he sought to use trade negotiations and criminal investigations to further his political interests.

Mr. Bolton describes several episodes where the president expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations “to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” citing cases involving major firms in China and Turkey.

“The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Mr. Bolton writes, saying that he reported his concerns to Attorney General William P. Barr.

Mr. Bolton also adds a striking new accusation by describing how Mr. Trump overtly linked tariff talks with China to his own political fortunes by asking President Xi Jinping to buy American agricultural products to help him win farm states in this year’s election. Mr. Trump, he writes, was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.” Mr. Bolton said that Mr. Trump “stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”

None of that is surprising but it all adds up:

While other books by journalists, lower-level former aides and even an anonymous senior official have revealed much about the Trump White House, Mr. Bolton’s volume is the first tell-all memoir by such a high-ranking official who participated in major foreign policy events and has a lifetime of conservative credentials. It is a withering portrait of a president ignorant of even basic facts about the world, susceptible to transparent flattery by authoritarian leaders manipulating him and prone to false statements, foul-mouthed eruptions and snap decisions that aides try to manage or reverse.

Mr. Trump did not seem to know, for example, that Britain was a nuclear power and asked if Finland was a part of Russia, Mr. Bolton writes. The president never tired of assailing allied leaders and came closer to withdrawing the United States from NATO than previously known. He said it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela.

And there’s this:

At times, Mr. Trump seemed to almost mimic the authoritarian leaders he appeared to admire. “These people should be executed,” Mr. Trump once said of journalists. “They are scumbags.” When Mr. Xi explained why he was building concentration camps in China, the book says, Mr. Trump “said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.” He repeatedly badgered Mr. Barr to prosecute former Secretary of State John F. Kerry for talking with Iran in what he insisted was a violation of the Logan Act.

In the face of such behavior, even top advisers who position themselves as unswervingly loyal mock Mr. Trump behind his back. During the president’s 2018 meeting with North Korea’s leader, according to the book, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped Mr. Bolton a note disparaging the president, saying, “He is so full of shit.”

A month later, Mr. Bolton writes, Mr. Pompeo dismissed the president’s North Korea diplomacy, declaring that there was “zero probability of success.”

And there’s this:

Intelligence briefings with the president were a waste of time, Mr. Bolton writes, “since much of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than Trump listening to the briefers.” Mr. Trump likes pitting staff members against one another, at one point telling Mr. Bolton that former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had once referred to Nikki R. Haley, then the ambassador to the United Nations, by a sexist obscenity – an assertion Mr. Bolton seemed to doubt but found telling that the president would make it.

Mr. Trump said so many things that were wrong or false that Mr. Bolton in the book regularly includes phrases like “(the opposite of the truth)” after some quote from the president. And Mr. Trump in this telling has no overarching philosophy of governance or foreign policy, but rather a series of gut-driven instincts that sometimes mirrored Mr. Bolton’s but other times were, in his view, dangerous and reckless.

“His thinking was like an archipelago of dots (like individual real estate deals), leaving the rest of us to discern – or create – policy,” Mr. Bolton writes.

Not that Bolton minded that last bit. Someone had to create policy. Why not him? But why is he telling us this now? He refused to say anything during the impeachment:

Mr. Bolton did not agree to testify during the House impeachment inquiry last fall, saying he would wait to see if a judge would rule that former aides like him should do so over White House objections. But after the House impeached Mr. Trump for abuse of power for withholding security aid while pressuring Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Bolton offered to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed.

Senate Republicans blocked calling Mr. Bolton as a witness even after The Times reported in January that his then-unpublished book confirmed that Mr. Trump linked the suspended security aid to his insistence that Ukraine investigate his political rivals. The Senate went on to acquit Mr. Trump almost entirely along party lines. But Mr. Bolton greatly angered critics of the president for waiting to make his account public until now.

Mr. Bolton, however, had nothing but scorn for the House Democrats who impeached Mr. Trump, saying they committed “impeachment malpractice” by limiting their inquiry to the Ukraine matter and moving too quickly for their own political reasons. Instead, he says they should have also looked at how Mr. Trump was willing to intervene in investigations into companies like Turkey’s Halkbank to curry favor with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey or China’s ZTE to favor Mr. Xi.

He had the goods on Trump, he had him nailed, and he smiled and said nothing, but the House Democrats blew it. They couldn’t force him to cooperate:

“A president may not misuse the national government’s legitimate powers by defining his own personal interest as synonymous with the national interest, or by inventing pretexts to mask the pursuit of personal interest under the guise of national interest,” Mr. Bolton writes. “Had the House not focused solely on the Ukraine aspects of Trump’s confusion of his personal interests,” he adds, then “there might have been a greater chance to persuade others that ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ had been perpetrated.”

That’s curious. He could have helped them widen the scope of their efforts, but he wouldn’t and he didn’t. Those fools!

What? David Ignatius tries to sort this out:

As much as you think you know about the arrogance, vanity and sheer incompetence of Trump’s years in the White House, Bolton’s account will still astonish you. He narrates his 17 months as national security adviser in remarkable detail. He seems to have collated every Trump rant, reckless phone call, and muttered aside. No wonder the White House was so determined to block this book: It eviscerates Trump’s foreign policy record and exposes him, in Bolton’s words, as “stunningly uninformed.”

Bolton offers new tidbits about Ukraine, the issue on which Trump was impeached and where Democrats desperately sought Bolton’s testimony. He confirms an aide’s account that Bolton viewed Trump’s Ukraine machinations as a “drug deal,” provides new evidence that “Ukraine security assistance was at risk of being swallowed by the Ukraine fantasy conspiracy theories.”

In sum, he says, “the whole affair was bad policy, questionable legally, and unacceptable as presidential behavior.” This account should deeply embarrass Republican senators who offered unblinking defenses of Trump’s Ukraine actions during the impeachment trial.

It won’t deeply embarrass any Republicans, nor will this:

Bolton offers a damning review of nearly every theater of Trump’s foreign policy: His coddling of Kim “made me ill”; his last-minute reversal of a retaliatory strike against Iran after the shoot-down of a U.S. drone was “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do”; his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria was a “huge mistake”; the “slowness and lack of agility” of his Venezuela policy was “painful to watch.”

But something smells here:

Bolton is the hero of nearly every anecdote in the book. Indeed, for a memoir that is startlingly candid about many things, Bolton’s utter lack of self-criticism is one of the book’s significant shortcomings. Nearly every policy discussion is an opportunity for Bolton to say that he was right, people should have listened to him, he knew it would never work, he was vindicated.

His only problem is that, having burned so many bridges with this book, Fox News may not give him a future platform to explain how right he is.

But yes, he was right:

Perhaps the most damning comment Bolton offers, in the end, isn’t about foreign policy but Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “Trump’s reflex effort to talk his way out of anything… even a public-health crisis, only undercut his and the nation’s credibility, with his statements looking more like political damage control than responsible public-health advice.”

John F. Kelly, Trump’s harassed chief of staff, mutters to Bolton at one point, “Has there ever been a presidency like this?” To which Bolton replies tartly: “I assured him there had not.”

That might be because of the little things:

In the summer of 2018, the president spent an immoderate amount of time fixating on delivering a Donald Trump-signed CD featuring Elton John’s 1972 hit “Rocket Man” to Kim Jong-Un. But he wasn’t only trying to please the North Korean dictator with a disc that included a track with a song title of the nickname he’d given him. Trump also thought it would bring a smile to the face of his estranged friend – Sir Elton John himself.

According to the new book by former national security adviser John Bolton, Trump made the delivery of the disc to the totalitarian North Korean leader a diplomatic priority, following his high-profile 2018 Singapore summit with Kim. The president is a massive Elton John fan who had reportedly heard from Kim that he had never heard the song “Rocket Man.” So, naturally, Trump wanted to give the supreme leader a recording and advised his Secretary of State to make the delivery.

“Trump didn’t seem to realize [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo hadn’t actually seen Kim Jong-Un [during Pompeo’s follow-up overseas trip], asking if Pompeo had handed” the autographed CD to Kim, Bolton wrote. “Pompeo had not. Getting this CD to Kim remained a high priority for several months.”

Yes, yes, yes, of course this is absurd:

According to two people with knowledge of President Trump’s private remarks at the time, he also believed that Elton John would appreciate the overture because it would give the musician’s work additional publicity and international media attention.

“The president said something like, ‘Boy, I bet Elton will get a kick out of this!'” said a former senior Trump administration official. “It seemed like he hadn’t spoken to Elton John in a while…I know from my conversations with the president that he finds it regrettable that he and Elton John haven’t been closer during his presidency.”

Everyone regrets that. No, wait. Max Boot has other regrets and addresses John Bolton directly:

In 2016, you gave this vapid celebrity TV host credibility on the right by praising him for having a “serious” foreign policy vision. You did not join the “War on the Rocks” letter signed by 122 Republican national security professionals, including me, warning that Donald Trump would “make America less safe, and diminish our standing in the world.” You chose to ignore those warnings. Was it perhaps because you wanted to preserve your lucrative career as a right-wing lecturer and talking head – and your ambitions for higher office?

But better late than never – reading the excerpt from your new book in the Wall Street Journal, along with summaries of it in The Post and the New York Times, makes clear that you are confirming in every particular – and then some – the indictment of Trump by his critics. The president is every bit as ignorant, incompetent, capricious and heedless of the public interest as many of us have been saying while you stayed silent or supported him.

Your book presents an ironclad case that Trump is utterly unfit for the office you thought he should win in 2016. As you write: “He second-guessed people’s motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government.”

Bully for you! But not really:

Here’s the thing you may not realize. The stronger you build the case against Trump – and you have constructed a titanium-strength case – the more you indict yourself for not speaking out sooner. You could have helped stop Trump in 2016 – when all of his deficiencies were evident – by endorsing his opponent. More recently, you could have aided the impeachment managers by testifying under oath. But you refused to do that. Instead you waited for a subpoena that never came and saved your revelations for a book that is now a bestseller…

There is no one who could have done more to aid a wider impeachment inquiry than you, but you failed us when the nation needed you most. You are, as Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D.-Calif.) says, an author but not a patriot.

So, big shot, fix this

I hope you will at least now have the decency to campaign against Trump as he seeks a second term to continue the calamitous foreign policy you now decry. Because the way things stand right now, neither the pro-Trumpers nor the Never Trumpers want anything to do with you.

That might be true but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

In the impeachment trial we actually had, Democrats proved beyond any doubt that Trump used American foreign policy to advance his own electoral interests in the case of Ukraine — and all but one Republican in the Senate voted to acquit. If Bolton had testified, maybe Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski would have wrung their hands a bit more, but I’m persuaded that the outcome of the trial would have been exactly the same. The fix was in…

Nothing Bolton might have said would have changed that. Quite a few Republicans in both the House and Senate were at risk of being defeated in primaries if they turned against a president widely revered by their voters, and almost universally seen as the victim of a witch hunt conducted by people who, these voters believed, should have been on trial themselves. The scales weren’t going to fall from Republicans’ eyes just because Bolton was a right-wing hero in the distant past.

Still, Bolton may yet be useful:

Right now might be an ideal time for the book, a moment when some voters who were once favorably disposed toward Trump have finally begun to see him as a failure. Trump’s scapegoating of China for the coronavirus and attempts to brand Joe Biden as a pushover for the Chinese are the perfect setup for some of Bolton’s revelations.

Or this may come to nothing. Julian Borger sees that:

The most important question is whether these new insights into White House chaos from an insider with rock-hard conservative credentials will cut through the constant din of the Trump era and change any votes – which is a wordy way of asking: doesn’t anything matter anymore?

In the language of the pollsters, craziness is already “baked in” when it comes to opinions about the Trump administration. The dividing line is whether Americans are horrified or enthralled by it.

Everyone knows how that goes:

Trump himself has boasted he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters”. The reality turns out to be even more macabre. More than 117,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, many of them because the administration’s handling of the pandemic has been worse than just about every other country on earth, with the possible exception of Brazil. Yet nearly 40% of the electorate still thinks Trump has done a good job in fighting off what he calls the “plague from China”. And almost every Republican senator has continued to vote for Trump’s agenda.

“For diehard Trumpers, Bolton’s book, and the revelations about trading US trade security for election assistance, will make no difference,” Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University, said. “They will still walk over hot coals to vote for him.”

But nothing is that simple:

“For independents and more moderate Republicans who voted for him in 2016 in key swing states, like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arizona, the Bolton revelations may further increase Trump fatigue”, Schiller said. “Given that the US 2020 presidential election will be decided by razor thin margins in these states, if these voters stay home, or worse defect to Biden, Trump loses.”

And in that case, book him, Danno!

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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