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Trump Fires National Security Adviser John Bolton. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired September 10, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: To navigate his early days in this administration and get the Brexit deal done. Venezuela, Afghanistan, and beyond, friend and foe around the world have asked from day one of the administration who's calling the shots. What is this going to do?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, this is clearly going to send the message that whatever John Bolton came and told you, I'm thinking recently he was here in London a month ago, he was telling the United Kingdom that it should stick with the United States and its policy on Iran and join the security forces in the Persian Gulf when at that time the best indication from the British Government at that time was to stick with the Europeans. He was telling the British Government that it shouldn't buy Huawei equipment, the 5G manufacturer. At that time, the British Government still considering doing that.

He was keen on Britain leaving the European Union. He said it would be very easy for the United States to strike a strong trade relationship with Britain. But he really stepped in it on that issue, and that was something that President Trump at the G7 when he met there with Boris Johnson had to clean up. And it was very clear too, I think, British journalists in particular who followed this issue closely, John Bolton had indicated that the United States would like to get access to the British National Health Service in a post-Brexit scenario. Hugely politically damaging for Prime Minister Boris Johnson so when he met with President Trump and the cameras were in front of the pair of them, they both coordinated there on that point saying the National Health Service in the United Kingdom is not open for business in the United States in a post-Brexit trade situation.

So I think, you know, that tells you the problems that surface that President Trump had to deal with on the international stage with John Bolton. But I think right now a lot of us will be looking to Iran and what is Iran's reaction going to be on this. Because again, going back to the G7, the arrival there of the Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Sarif, President Trump didn't really seem to blanch too much about that. Indeed really made it clear that he was willing to meet with the Iranian president Rouhani at some point in the future.

Bolton, as we all know, has been such a hawk for such a long time on Iran. Very easy to see the differences there. So if you're a United States ally and you've been spending a lot of time talking to Bolton as the United Arab Emirates, the Saudis have, you're trying to figure now how much of that does President Trump back, and how much was Bolton.

KING: A great point. Our Diplomatic -- International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson in London. Nic, appreciate the context and a very important point. No doubt in capitals around the world, friend and foe, and phone calls being made, a lot of cables to the ambassadors trying to figure out what this means for international relations. And we noted earlier, John Bolton not shy about making his case along with histories of Fox News commentator between the Bush administration and his new job in the Trump administration, former job in the Trump administration.

Let's get back to CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House who has more on how Bolton is spinning this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He is disputing what the president said. As the president is -- what he doesn't usually do characterizing this as he's firing someone, and John Bolton is pushing back on that, saying that he offered to resign to the president, and not only just tweeting about it himself but going as far as to text members of the media his position on this, John. Telling a Fox News anchor just moments ago, quote, let's be clear, I resigned.

John Bolton is also reaching out to several other members of the media. I'm not sure we've ever seen someone who's left this administration pushed back on the president about how they are departing the administration so quickly as we were watching John Bolton do so in realtime on Twitter right now.

Now, this comes as been kind of a surprise to several senior administration officials that John Bolton is leaving this way. They did not -- they weren't surprised that he's leaving overall because they knew there was the internal division with Bolton but they're surprised that this happened last night, and we're told that when several members of the National Security Council staff and West Wing staff came to work today, it seemed to be business as usual around here until the president's tweet, announcing that he was firing from John Bolton just come out.

John, something to look for in the coming days is what's going to happen to the people that John Bolton brought into the National Security Council? Because when he came in after McMaster left he really changed the structure of it as we noted in small things but also in big things like downgrading the position of the Homeland Security adviser not once but twice. So that person no longer reported to the president, they now reported directly to John Bolton, the national security adviser.

But he also filled some of those roles with people who had work with him for decades, loyalists to John Bolton which is what contributed to the tension between NFC staff and West Wing staff. So the question going forward will be whether or not those people stay in their position when the president says he's naming a new national security adviser next week. But right now, we're just trying to get to the bottom of whether or not is the president firing him or John Bolton resigning? KING: John Bolton says he resigned the president says otherwise. CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. We'll come back to you as there is more reporting.

A quick break. When we come back, though, more on this important breaking news. Both the personnel and policy implications of the president's decision to John Bolton is out as national security adviser.


[12:39:42] KING: More now in the hour's dramatic breaking news. The National Security Adviser John Bolton is leaving the White House. The president announcing that on Twitter. There is a fight now between the president and his close aides and Mr. Bolton about how it happened. Bolton says he resigned. The president says he asked for Bolton's resignation.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins live at the White House again for us with some very fascinating reporting of what we shall call the last straw.

[12:40:05] COLLINS: Yes.

John, they are disputing whether or not the chicken came before the egg, if he was resigned, if he resigned, but what we do now is that -- know now is that two people are telling us that the president and John Bolton got into what is being described as a bitter disagreement last night, a bitter argument over the president's decision to host those Taliban leaders at Camp David, something we've reported that John Bolton was strongly against along with several other people in the administration.

We should stress it wasn't just John Bolton who didn't think it was a good idea to not only host them on U.S. soil but to host them at Camp David. But for some reason it was John Bolton's pushback and the fact that it was reported about pretty widely that urged the president and seems to be the last straw for John Bolton before he's ending his tenure here at the White House, which we should note comes as a surprise to many since the White House just announced not long ago that John Bolton was going to participate in a briefing here at the White House in about less than an hour alongside the Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Now we are expecting just the two of them to do that briefing but of course, they want to focus on this executive order on counterterrorism. But, John, there are going to be a lot of questions about the president's national security team.

KING: Good luck with the attempt to focus on anything but this abrupt resignation. Kaitlan Collins, I appreciate the live reporting.

Just for our viewers, some important context, the president now looking for his fourth national security adviser. Michael Flynn was the first. He resigned in disgrace, of course, cut a plea deal in the Russia special counsel investigation. H.R. McMaster came in next, many disagreements with the president. A former military leader and much more of an establishment Republican, many disagreements with the president. Now John Bolton gone as well. The president is looking for his fourth national security adviser.

Michael Warren of CNN joins our conversation. As I bring you in, I just want to note, this from Mitt Romney on Capitol Hill, very strong words. Senator Mitt Romney, now of Utah calls John Bolton's departure a huge loss for the Trump administration. Quote, the loss of John Bolton as a senior leader in foreign policy is an extraordinary loss for our nation and for the White House. He was asked who should replace Bolton and Romney said, John Bolton.

An example there, there is a lot of mistrust, anxiety, stress among establishment Republicans like Senator Romney about the president's foreign policy instincts.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: That's right, and John Bolton in a lot of ways seen as sort of the last hawk in the room. A lot of questions now about who is going to be in that room with the president helping him make these decisions. I do think, you know, you looked at those past national security advisers that Trump has had, it always seemed like he was going to end this way with John Bolton.

We have to remember how exactly he got into this role in the first place. He was speaking a lot as a Fox News contributor, a channel that the president likes to watch. He was also watching a lot of op- eds that were getting in front of the president in those early months of his administration. That probably was the apex of John Bolton's actual personal influence on the president.

Once he got into the White House, he had a lot of influence on the structure of the National Security Council of those offices and sort of that interagency process. But he really did lose that perch, that ability because he was running up against his disagreements, profound disagreements on the Middle East, North Korea, and even South America, Latin America with where the president's policies were going. It was sort of inevitable that it would end this way, but certainly, the sort of fireworks that are coming out in the immediate aftermath weren't necessarily predictable.

KING: I want to bring in a little more reaction. This is from Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina oblate, very much a Trump ally but also much more hawkish on some foreign policy issues. Here's his reaction just moments ago.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Every president needs to have confidence in their national security adviser. I like John Bolton. I think he sees the world for what it is. I've always had a similar view of the threats that we face. But the personal relationship between the president and the national security adviser is important. I think that the view that there is some public discussions about Bolton being on the other side (INAUDIBLE) the Taliban probably was a bridge too far. I don't know what happened there but the bottom line is I appreciate what John Bolton had done for a long period of time, and now the president will now get a chance to pick a national security adviser he has more confidence in.


KING: More of a milquetoast answer there from Senator Graham. He was asked after if he wanted the job and he laughed and he said no. Senator Graham, I say milquetoast answers, on the ballot next year in South Carolina and does not want to pick a fight with the president publicly, even though we know on many of these policy issues, he would be more in camp Bolton than camp Trump, right?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And they've all I think -- not all, clearly not Bolton, learned how to deal with Trump in this sort of milquetoast response that you hear from Lindsey Graham who is a very hawkish Republican, that's what they've evolved in to. I think Pompeo in the same way, he's learned how to deal with the president.

[12:45:01] This something of -- sycophant might be too harsh a word, but I think that's what the president responds to, that's what he likes, that's what -- you see him with those, you know, cabinet meetings and everyone is praising him as if he, you know, is the dear leader, and Bolton wasn't that person. He never was going to be that person. In many ways, the president should have known that, to begin with. Why he brought him in here, kind of a bull in the China shop, it was a bad hire from the beginning.

KING: I want to just make sure we make clear, the personality conflict -- the personal conflict between the two is based on significant policy differences. Number one, the president was upset. Bolton thought that the public pressure and the support for Juan Guaido in Venezuela could get Maduro to step down. That did not work and it was embarrassing for the American administration. But when it comes to inviting the Taliban to Camp David on the week of 9/11, John Bolton says that's a horrible idea. Number one, you can't trust them. Number two, look at the calendar.

He was much more hawkish than the president on Russia. Did not want to sit down and talk with Iran. So those two just did not agree on many of the fundamental issues in front of us on a global stage right now.

WARREN: It wasn't just policy, it was also personal. I mean, we're talking about Lindsey Graham, Mike Pompeo, these are men who get along personally well with the president. They play golf with him, they joke around with him. John Bolton was never going to fill that role. I think it's also important you're seeing the sort of dismay from hawkish Republicans because I think they fear that the influence of someone like Rand Paul much more of an isolationist, much more restrictionist on American foreign policy. He's out there on Twitter now praising the firing of John Bolton. Those two do not get along in any way. I think there is a lot of fear among more establishment hawkish Republicans that this could suggest Rand Paul is on the rise.

KING: Rand Paul on the rise, Secretary Pompeo who we expect to see in the briefing room there pretty soon, it'd be interesting to see what he had to say about this especially to the context for all this turnover in the Trump administration. Secretary Pompeo was just home in Kansas the other day and he has gone from, no to, well, I'm not so sure about running for the Senate next year. Does he see this as an opportunity to consolidate his already considerable power and influence over the president? Or does he see this as you know what, there's a whole lot going on here, maybe I want to be Senator Pompeo?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you said power and influence but none of these people have managed to stop President Trump from doing things that they don't think he should do, right. I mean, to your point about all of the decisions that -- where Trump was at odds with Bolton, the theory of men like Bolton and Mattis and Lindsey Graham has always been a few. Just tell the president he's great, you can get him to do things. Just keep flattering Trump and then -- and you'll end up being able to sway him. It's the Macron theory of Trump, right? And it actually doesn't work.

They've really -- I think a lot of these establishment Republicans see Trump as sort of a man without principles and therefore they can fill the void with their own ideologies, but actually, Trump does have a few sorts of north stars when it comes to policy. We certainly saw that with trade where he ended up having to kick all of the free traders out of the administration in order to get his way along with Peter Navarro and Bob Lighthizer. And so -- and that's happening in foreign policy as well I think as all of the hawks in the administration and outside the administration like a Lindsey Graham who really thought, you know, you just play enough golf games with him, you'll get to -- get him to bend toward your point of view.

No, he's still going go to talk to the North Koreans. He's still going to talk to Putin. You're not going to change his mind about those things.

KING: In Lindsey Graham's case, or at least you'll get him to be on your side in a tough -- potentially tough re-election battle which now there's not a serious primary challenge. So, that one worked for Lindsey Graham.

When we come back, more on the developing story, the big breaking news, John Bolton leaving the White House.

Also some other big news today, the Israeli prime minister makes a big announcement and there's an important special election underway right now in North Carolina.


[12:53:45] KING: More on this hour's dramatic breaking news and the timing of it. John Bolton is out as the president's national security adviser. This reporting just in from CNN White House team. A source familiar says Ambassador Bolton just this morning led a so-called Principles meeting. That is the top national security team of the administration. Bolton running that meeting this morning, no indications that his ouster was imminent. That we are told from our White House team this morning.

I want to bring our Rear Admiral John Kirby, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, our CNN diplomatic and military analyst into the conversation. Admiral, you have a lot of experience with the people who work in these positions. What do you make of this?

RET. RDML JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, very unusual that he'd be chairing a Principles Committee meeting on the morning, you know, after you had said the night before according to the president's account that you were going to resign, that you were going to retire early in the job. So that's very, very unusual.

Look, I mean, I think we've had a long discussion on the show about the implications here, what happened, and I know we'll find out more going on, but it's important to remember how key this job is and all the issues that we have going on. We've talked about Afghanistan, North Koreans yesterday are saying they're willing to restart negotiations. You've got Iran and that whole issue. There's a lot going on right now, so I hope the president is able to fill this job very, very quickly because there's a -- there's plenty of need for it.

KING: And help me put with the little bit of the context in the sense that I covered the White House for 10 years, and there were different people in the job who did it in different ways.

[12:55:01] Some viewed themselves as the coordinator, not as a policy voice. John Bolton clearly viewed himself as a policy voice.

KIRBY: Right. John, you hit exactly on the right issue. Each president decides for himself or herself who that national security adviser is going to be and what kind of job they want that person to do. In some administrations, it is more of a facilitator. You're making sure that all the interagency views are represented in those Principles Committee like this morning. Some of them are more policy advisers there. They are an equal voice if you will, trying to influence the president's decision.

It really comes down to what the president -- the commander-in-chief wants in that job. And so it's going to be very interesting now he's yet on another hire for national security adviser. Who he picks, it will tell you a lot about what he expects of that job, not just that person.

KING: Admiral Kirby, appreciate your insights.

In the little time we have left, just again, every time there is a big turnover, chaos, personnel issues in the White House, there's another wrinkle that makes you go, huh. That the president knew this and John Bolton knew this but yet, he sits down this morning in a Principles meeting with cabinet members to talk about policy and (INAUDIBLE) as if nothing is going on, huh?

BALL: Well, from John Bolton's account which is a tweet so I don't want to read too much into it, but if John Bolton is telling the truth, he the president had some kind of discussion, possibly an argument last night. Bolton said if that's the way you feel, I'm willing to resign. Trump said, let's talk about this tomorrow. So Bolton took that from that, OK, I guess he's not accepting my resignation and so he goes into this meeting thinking, well, the president and I are going to work things out, I'm still on the job.

And then he finds out from Twitter that the president has, in fact, accepted his resignation, and he's trying to make it seemed like he got fired rather than choosing to resign over whatever this argument was about.

KING: Not the first to find out on Twitter.

HENDERSON: On Twitter, exactly.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: You know, we're used to the chaos and the turnover in the Trump administration but by historical standards, this is not normal. Obama had three national security advisers in his eight years, Bush and Clinton only had two, Trump is looking for his fourth now. And this isn't a position that needs to be confirmed by the Senate which allows him to pick whoever he wants. But Trump is meeting with Republican leaders later today, so they will try to influence it.

KING: They're going to have some questions, and yes, maybe some recommendations.

Appreciate your patience during this hour of big breaking news. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar picks up coverage and a lot to talk about after a quick break. Have a great afternoon.