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Bolton vs. Trump

National Security Advisor John Bolton watches as President Donald Trump gives a news briefing at the G7 Summit in the Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal has an excerpt from John Bolton’s new book. To my mind, this is the most damning part of the excerpt:

At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China.

I do not always agree with Bolton — on some of the matters where he disagrees with Trump in this excerpt, I’m glad Trump rejected his advice — but I trust him to tell the truth, as best he understands it. Certainly I trust him to tell the truth more than I trust the president.

The least persuasive part of the excerpt? This one:

[Many of Trump’s conversations] formed a pattern of fundamentally unacceptable behavior that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency. Had Democratic impeachment advocates not been so obsessed with their Ukraine blitzkrieg in 2019, had they taken the time to inquire more systematically about Trump’s behavior across his entire foreign policy, the impeachment outcome might well have been different.

The key argument that Republican opponents of impeachment made was that lawful behavior by a president, however objectionable, could not be a legitimate basis for impeachment. I disagree with that view (as did James Madison, among others). But to the extent it was a valid defense against impeachment over Ukraine, it would have been an equally valid defense against impeachment over anything Bolton says here.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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