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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 24, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The U.S., as you probably know by now, has just recorded its third highest day of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.
Do you have confidence in President Trump's handling of this enormous crisis?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I do not.
And I am afraid that the erratic nature of the policies as they have evolved since January, when the experts really began to sense that this problem might be out there, has characterized our response throughout. And I'm worried that it continues to be the pattern that the president follows.
It is not part of a comprehensive strategy. I think, in a country the size of the United States, state and local authorities should have a big role, but at the federal level the response has not been consistent.
BLITZER: You blame the president directly?
BOLTON: I think that the evidence is unmistakable that the experts early on in January at the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, at the National Security Council were sounding the alarm.
I think there was an empty chair in the Oval Office, because the president did not want to hear bad news about Xi Jinping, his friend. He did not want to hear bad news about the cover-up of the virus in China or its potential effect on the China trade deal that he wants so much.
And he didn't want to hear about the potential impact of a pandemic on the American economy and its effect on his reelection. Turning a blind eye to all these early signs, I think hampered the country's ability to deal with this and continues to do so.
BLITZER: All of this is happening as the president in recent days is admitting that he actually wants to slow down testing for the virus.
In your book, you write this, that you are -- quote -- "hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision" during your tenure "that wasn't driven by political calculations." Do you believe that political calculations right now, his desire, understandable desire, to be reelected, is driving what he's doing on this coronavirus pandemic?
BOLTON: I am afraid -- I am afraid that is true.
Look, I think the American people are chafing under the restrictions, but I think, at the same time, they are afraid that, if they don't follow the restrictions, the pandemic will break out again.
It is incomprehensible to me that the president would risk having the rally he held in Tulsa or in Arizona. This is endangering people. And there is no need for it. I think you need strong, stable, persistent leadership at a time like this. And I don't think that's what we're seeing.
BLITZER: Well, based on what you saw when you were the president's national security adviser for, what, about 17 months, do you have any doubt he would actually try to slow down testing here in the United States if he thought that would help him win reelection?
BOLTON: It doesn't surprise me in the slightest.
I think he is driven kind of day to day, almost hour to hour, by his perception of how he is perceived, and -- duplicative -- but he is worried about how the people see him. He is not so worried about what he is actually doing.
BLITZER: Because he is potentially, from your perspective and a lot of people's perspective, endangering American lives.
BOLTON: Well, I think he needs to get a focus on understanding the nature of this threat. He stopped the meetings of the Coronavirus Task Force.
He is understandably concerned about getting the economy moving again. But you have got to try and ride both of these things at the same time.
BLITZER: Yesterday, we learned that the European Union might actually block American travelers from visiting the European Union countries because of what is going on, the increase in coronavirus cases here in the United States.
What does that say about the way this administration has handled this crisis and specifically about America's standing in the world right now during the Trump administration?
BOLTON: Well, I think there has been a failure kind of across the board to coordinate with our allies in particular on this.
I think it's been, in part, because of the failure of the World Health Organization. I do think you can attribute a lot of blame there for not pressing China harder on what actually happened with the coronavirus. It is not clear to me that the coordination among the developed countries' health services has been what it should be. But this is part of not having a whole-of-government approach, despite
the administration's rhetoric. So, we could be in a situation where this -- the Europeans make that decision. I think they have got their own problems in Europe. I don't think this is a uniquely American problem.
But it is a strange world where the United States isn't leading in a global effort to deal with this. It is not the World Health Organization that can do this. It is ultimately the United States, and we have stepped back from that.
BLITZER: Another big issue right now, the crisis in our country. We have seen continued protests. We've seen demonstrations against racism and police brutality.
The president seems to be doubling down, though, on some racist rhetoric, using phrases like kung-flu, for example, tweeting inflammatory videos that promote racist stereotypes.
Does he see deepening the racial divide in our country right now as a potential reelection ticket?
BOLTON: You know, I don't know what he thinks he is doing, quite honestly.
I think that there -- I think there is a lot of hyperbole on both sides of this issue. I think people need to calm down and take a deep breath.
But I do think there is a responsibility for the president of the United States to say, look, we have got difficulties here in the country that need to be resolved. I don't agree with much of what the demonstrators are saying about systematic racism in the United States.
This is not the same situation we faced in the 1960s. There's been significant improvement. I don't dispute there is more improvement that is needed. But let's try and look at this in perspective.
And, to me, fundamentally, I would just go back to what Martin Luther King said in the March on Washington, that he looked for the day when Americans judged each other not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. That is the society the president should be leading us toward.
BLITZER: It is interesting you say that, because, in your book, there was a lot that jumped out at me.
But one of the things you write in your book is that the president at one point wanted to grant white South Africans asylum here in the United States and citizenship here in the United States after he heard something about how they were ostensibly being treated.
Do you think that -- and you write about it in the book -- was racially motivated? BOLTON: Well, this is what he was hearing from white South Africans.
There was a campaign going on at about that time. I don't see any evidence that, in fact, that is true. To me, that was an example of how the president gets information from friends and colleagues outside the government that becomes the basis for his recommendations and policy, not checked out through the process we have to verify what is actual fact and what's not.
And that is the sort of erratic decision-making that I think leaves the country in jeopardy.
BLITZER: Well, based on everything you saw, conversations, multiple conversations, many conversations you had with the president on all sorts of issues, do you believe he is a racist?
BOLTON: I don't see that in his comments. I think he could be accused of insensitivity. I think we could all be accused of insensitivity.
I want to get beyond racial characterization. As I say, I think Martin Luther King hit it on the head. It is the content of every individual's character. William F. Buckley Jr. once said, I believe every individual is different from every other individual in every conceivable way.
And that's how I think we ought to look at people.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about some specific details in your book.
When it comes to the overall disorder that you eyewitnessed when you were in the White House, you write in the book you initially thought it was simply what you called a White House staff problem, but you came to realize -- and I'm quoting from the book right now -- "It was a Trump problem and it never got fixed."
What is the Trump problem?
BOLTON: Well, this -- the incident you cite is a discussion that I had with John Kelly within, I think, about 10 days after joining the White House, where a briefing in preparation for a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan had been disrupted. We didn't get to the subjects we wanted to.
The first suggestion that was made to the president was to thank Abe for being such a close ally of the United States. And he started talking about Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.
So, I had this discussion with John Kelly. And I said, this is a staff problem. He said, no, it's not. And I say in the book, and I believe it, Kelly was right, and I was wrong.
The confusion, the lack of systematic analysis and study on the part of the president makes it very hard to have a successful, long-term, sustained policy. And so the United States suffers damage from that, whether you agree
with a policy or not, because we get a reputation for people being fickle and inconsistent. That harms the United States, no matter what direction the policy is in.
BLITZER: Because you make a -- you have -- there's a long list in your book of White House officials who clearly failed, failed to impose any order or specific influence on the president, John Kelly, James Mattis.
I got a list here, H.R. McMaster, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson, among them. Why do you think they failed in their effort to have some serious discipline over there?
BOLTON: Well, I think there were a lot of different reasons. I don't think it was necessarily inevitable we're in the chaos that we are now. Other people tell me that, even today, that is a fatuous idea, that Trump will be Trump and nothing can correct it.
But I believed when I went into the government -- and people will read the book and decide whether I was right or wrong -- that we could do better. I don't think I succeeded, so I will join the list of people who couldn't get order.
But in the potentially deadly area of national security, it is very important for presidents to make considered decisions. I am a conservative Republican. I have been since I handed out leaflets for Barry Goldwater in 1964.
We're not dealing with a president who has a philosophy. I am not saying he is a squishy liberal Democrat. He doesn't have any philosophy at all. And I think that is a problem, too.
BLITZER: Let's get to some of the specific charges, allegations you make in the book.
You write about the president's what you call habit of giving personal favors to dictators he liked -- your words -- dictators he liked, including Russian President Putin, Chinese President Xi, Turkish President Erdogan, among others.
Why do you think he is tougher on American -- traditional American allies than he is on these authoritarian strongmen?
BOLTON: Well, may I say, that is not only my characterization.
The president himself said early in my tenure at the White House -- we were going off to a NATO summit with Theresa May in Great Britain and then the meeting with Putin in Helsinki.
And he said, I think, as he left the White House, who knows? The meeting with Putin may be the easiest of all. Who would have thought that?
Well, I certainly didn't think that. And I don't think any of his other senior advisers did too.
I think, in part, it is because the president personalizes policy. I don't doubt that relations between top leaders, personal relations, can be important. But personal relations are not the equivalent of the actual relationship between two countries.
So, being a big guy, talking to other big guys, talking the way big guys talk, why don't you do something about the prosecution of Halkbank, that sort of thing, maybe that is something the president enjoyed. I am not a shrink. I'm not going to second-guess it. I just think it was bad for the country.
BLITZER: You write in the book -- and this is a very alarming part of the book.
You write that President Trump actually encouraged the Chinese president, Xi, to continue building detention camps for, what, a million Muslim Uyghurs there, that the president of the United States gave a green light to a major human rights abuse.
But what was surprising to me is, you only devoted, what, a couple paragraphs or so to that revelation, which was so outrageous, so significant. Why not tell more about it in the book, because it was sort of covered very briefly? You make the allegation, and then move on.
The book is 500 pages' long. If Simon & Schuster had given me 1,000 pages, I could have filled them. There is plenty more where that comes from, none of it involving classified information.
It is part of the continuing chaos in the White House, and the signal that it sends to Xi Jinping, that he can act essentially with impunity across a wide range of issues.
BLITZER: But weren't you outraged by that when you heard him say that?
BOLTON: Well, I was equally outraged when he told me and told Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to stop basically the interagency consideration of sanctions that we were looking at recommending to him to impose on China because of the treatment of the Uyghurs.
Same situation came up with respect to the demonstrators in Hong Kong, with respect to a statement marking the anniversary of the suppression of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. It came up over and over again.
BLITZER: Did you tell the president: "Mr. President, with all due respect, this is outrageous. You should not be doing this. You should not be encouraging the Chinese to build these detention camps for these Muslims"?
BOLTON: We had conversations on all of these subjects.
My objective was to try to persuade him to do the right thing. I'm not -- I think it's fair to say I am not a virtual signaller. I wasn't playing "West Wing" on TV.
I thought, for example, that pursuing the repression of the Uyghurs was something that was important for the United States. I got absolutely nowhere.
BLITZER: So, you raised it with him and you complained to him? You weren't necessarily silent, were you?
BOLTON: No, of course not.
The issue for anybody who works in an administration, particularly like this, is how many times you can make a recommendation and get rejected. The fact is -- and I said this repeatedly in public when I was there -- I was the national security adviser. I was not the national security decision-maker.
I understood who was in charge. So, I would make recommendations, as would others in the administration. I was certainly not the only one. And you don't expect to win every battle. You're not -- as Jim Baker -- one of his favorite phrases to describe George H.W. Bush was, he was the guy who got elected.
I was not the guy who got elected. I understand that. So, just because he doesn't take my recommendation, even on an important point, is not alone grounds for resignation. At least, that was my view. It is the number of rocks in the bottom of the boat that it finally took in my case, and I think in the case of many others, finally, before they left.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by.
There is a lot more we need to discuss, very, very significant allegations in the book I need you to clarify.
You are getting hammered, as you know, from the right and from the left. We will discuss all of that, much more of our interview with the ambassador, right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the former National Security Adviser to the president John Bolton.
We're talking about his time in the Trump White House and the bombshells in his brand-new book entitled "The Room Where It Happened."
Ambassador, do you trust the president with the nuclear codes?
And I do that because I think, in the circumstances where the United States might face the enormous consequential decisions where those codes would be involved, that the combined weight of all of the advisers, whoever they might be at that time, would be serious enough to have us believe we could get responsible decisions.
But I also think it is something that the American people should pay more attention to in all presidential elections. I have spent my public career in national security. I formed a PAC and super PAC some years back to stress foreign and defense policy issues.
I think, perhaps since the end of the Cold War, there has not been enough attention on national security issues in American politics. And the coronavirus as the possible -- hopefully not, obviously -- but possible precursor of a biological weapons attack on the United States should give all of us pause, because our adversaries have seen the result of this pandemic.
And it should not fill us with confidence they would believe we'd know how to handle it.
BLITZER: I ask the question because you write in the book that Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong-un have gotten a laugh out of Trump.
And you told ABC News that Putin -- quote -- "can play him like a fiddle."
So, which world leaders respect the president the most, based on what you personally saw as the national security adviser in the White House? Which world leaders respect him the least?
BOLTON: Look, I think they all respect him, in the sense that they know the United States remains the most powerful country in the world.
And my hope for the future is that we can repair the damage I think the president has done in many of our international relations. And I think these other world leaders are hard-core realists in their approach, and they know the strength of the United States, whoever the president is.
I think we can repair the damage of one Trump term. I'm not so certain about repairing the damage of two.
BLITZER: Well, that's -- we are going to get to some of the politics of that shortly.
But you also in the book describe what you call a sympathetic working relationship with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
You write that, when you discussed resigning with him, on multiple occasions, he indicated he would resign with you.
Was it common within the Trump administration to hear Cabinet secretaries talk possibly about resignations?
BOLTON: Well, I think, at least for some of us, we almost joked about it. I had a two-sentence letter of resignation written for quite some time
before I actually pulled it out of the drawer and made it effective. You could look at the trajectory of senior advisers, senior officials in the administration, and it was perfectly apparent that most people were leaving before serving anything like close to one term with the president.
I knew that going in. I knew what people said about the president. I believed I could make it work. I did my best to try. And the history, I have written in the book.
BLITZER: In the book, you also describe multiple Trump administration officials that you worked closely with.
But since the book came out and the allegations in the book, several of them -- and I have got a whole list -- have come out and say, basically, you're a liar, Secretary of State Pompeo, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, economic adviser Peter Navarro, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
So, the question is, is, why should Americans believe you, as opposed to them?
BOLTON: Well, I have written the best recollection I could of the events I describe in the book.
I have tried hard, as I did in my first book about the Bush 43 administration, to portray an accurate picture of what is going on. People who have a different view of that are certainly free to bring their story forward. I'm a former litigator. This is how the truth emerges. I am confident of my version. I stand by it.
BLITZER: All right, I want you to stand by, because we have got more to discuss, a lot more coming up.
We're talking about the new book "A White House Memoir," John Bolton's new book, "The Room Where It Happened."
Much more right after this.
BLITZER: President Trump's former National Security Adviser John Bolton is with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're discussing his account of the Trump presidency in his new book, "The Room Where It Happened."
You know, we're both students of history. You spent a lot of time writing the history.
During Richard Nixon's impeachment, as you well know, John Dean had the courage to come forward to testify in front of Congress under oath about a sitting president of the United States. You had the opportunity to be the John Dean right now, when this
president was being investigated for impeachment. But, as so many of your critics, especially the Democrats in the House and the Senate, have pointed out, you chose not to do so. Instead, you wanted to wait until you could get your -- quote -- "$2 million advance" for your book.
And the question is, how do you think history will judge you for that?
BOLTON: Well that's the Democrats view of what happened.
BLITZER: A lot of people are saying that though.
BOLTON: But that's -- it's an incorrect view, and as I explained in the book, I think the Democrats and the House committed impeachment malpractice. You referred to Watergate. And it's an important analogy, because what we saw there was the Urban Watergate Committee chaired by a Democrat where Sam Ervin worked closely with Howard Baker, the Republican ranking Republican on the committee, and over a period of time and not without some difficulty, they developed the body of evidence and a consensus about the future of Richard Nixon. That was critical work before the House Judiciary Committee.
BLITZER: But you know, you could have made a difference. If you want to testify --
BOLTON: I don't agree. I don't agree.
BLITZER: -- you might have made a difference because you spent 17 months in the inner circles of the White House working with the president and you might have influenced some of your fellow Republicans.
BOLTON: The Democrats in the House, by determining right from the get- go, that they were going to focus only on the Ukraine situation, and they were going to ram it through as fast as they could so it didn't affect the Democratic presidential nomination process drove House Republicans who might have been open to a broader consideration, a less partisan consideration. They drove those Republicans into their partisan corner and it had the same effect in the Senate.
BLITZER: But you say you wouldn't have made a difference.
BLITZER: But the title of your book is, The Room Where it Happened. And I want to be really specific about that. Because in the book you write stuff that none of the other witnesses could have said under oath before Congress as far as linking money to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on the Bidens, for example.
You write this. The next morning, August 20th I took Trump's temperature on the Ukraine security assistance and he said he wasn't in favor of sending them anything until all the Russia investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over, your words. If you had come before Congress and specifically backed up that allegation, as you do in the book, it potentially could have had a huge difference.
BOLTON: I don't agree. And I'll tell you why. Number one, the Democrats asserted and were not seriously contested by the Republicans that exactly that had happened. There may not have been one person who testified to it and, believe me, there were plenty of other people, senior levels in the administration, who could have said the same thing. The Democrats didn't ask for their testimony either.
And here is to me what I think is perhaps the most important part. The White House argued and Republicans, by and large, agreed that even if all this were true, the president's conduct on Ukraine did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
BLITZER: But there were some Republicans potentially on the fence, as you well know, and you also told ABC News this. And you could have said this during the testimony. You were sworn in under oath. You said, President Trump's conduct in Ukraine could well amount to high crimes and misdemeanors. Then you told USA Today in an interview this week that you probably would have voted to convict President Trump. Bottom line should the president not only have been impeached but also convicted and removed from office?
BOLTON: Well, as I say, I probably would have voted to convict if I were a senator but that argument was rejected by an overwhelming majority of Republican senators who voted against polling.
BLITZER: But they didn't hear what you had to say.
BOLTON: Because they thought it was irrelevant. They didn't think even if what I said was true and some of it probably would have contested it that it rose to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor.
BLITZER: Do you feel you have any personal responsibility for allowing this to go forward? And looking back should you have had the guts to do what John Dean did and testify before Congress? Any second thoughts?
BOLTON: No. I think the circumstances were completely different. That's why I think the Democrats were guilty of impeachment malpractice. They took this issue and drove it straight into a ditch. And that's the problem. What I've tried to do now in writing this book is give the information to the American people. And, frankly, I think when you look at the enormous responsibility of removing a president from office, the real test is what the people think.
BLITZER: Is your conscience clear?
BOLTON: Yes, absolutely.
BLITZER: Let me read to you some of the quotes from some of the leaders in Congress, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, calls your choice which you made, she says your choice to sell a book was a con job. The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, says you put your own profit and greed ahead of the interests of the country.
It's not just Democrats. We checked. The House Minority Leader Republican Kevin McCarthy agrees with them saying, calling your book appalling. Secretary Pompeo calls you a traitor, compared you to Edward Snowden. The president, just yesterday, says you're a low life who should be in jail. Those are amazing statements coming from the right and the left.
BOLTON: Yes, for very different reasons. And I would say on the Democratic criticism, I'm sure they're unhappy. They failed. And not only did they fail, they misunderstood the impact and the consequences of their decisions. The idea that the impeachment but failure to convict the president would inhibit the president was exactly the opposite of the effect it had. By taking this to trial in the Senate and seeing him acquitted, they empowered the president.
Look, if I wanted to make money I never would have joined the government. I would have stayed in the private sector. I've tried to present this in book form, because I think it's a long --
BLITZER: But you are going to make billions of dollars.
BOLTON: I don't know. If president Trump has his way maybe I won't. And I'm prepared to accept that. I'm going to contest it because I think his wrong. I wrote this book for history and philosophy. That's why I've been engaged in public life since I was a little boy working for Barry Goldwater.
I understand why the White House and the president are trying to downplay the significance of this book. If I were Donald Trump I'd be worried about it too. But I'm prepared to go through this. I'm prepared to give this material to the American people. They'll make up their minds.
BLITZER: Since yesterday, the president tweeted, he called you a low life who should be in jail, money seized for disseminating for profit, highly classified information, and the federal judge says you, quote, likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in your book.
BOLTON: Yes. We respectfully disagree with the judge. We'll have a long process to go through to show that he is wrong on that. The responsible official on the National Security Council reviewed this manuscript through an arduous, four-month process and concluded there was nothing classified in it. I think this is something that I understood and saw from the outset would be controversial. Sometimes that is what you have to go through to present the truth. I'm prepared to go through with it.
BLITZER: Are you prepared to go to jail?
BOLTON: I don't think there's any reason whatever for that to happen and that is something that I'm prepared to prove if necessary.
BLITZER: Are you prepared to forfeit the millions of dollars you're going to make from this book?
BOLTON: I'm prepared for the consequences. I knew the president would do everything he could to suppress this book. He certainly started with an effort to get a restraining order against publication, a prior restraint, something that the American Revolution was fought in part to prevent. And, you know, we see it even today as families try to suppress a book by his niece, about the family's personal finances.
The president is very worried about this, and he's worried about it, not because he's worried about what foreign governments will see in the book. He's worried the American people will read the book.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. There's more we need to discuss. We've got a lot more questions for you, Ambassador Bolton. Kind of you to spend some time with us. We'll continue this conversation right after a very quick break.
BLITZER: We have more questions for the former national security adviser to the president, John Bolton, about his damning portrayal of the president in his new book entitled The Room Where it Happened.
On page 433 what jumped out at me was this. You quote the president as saying, of the press, of reporters, of journalists, these people should be executed. They are scumbags. Was he joking? Was he serious? What did he mean to you by that?
BOLTON: Well, I think it's hard to say. That's certainly reflective of a lot of comments that he made about the press over time. Look, I believe the press is biased to the left in this country and they have been for a long time.
BLITZER: You believe they should be executed?
BOLTON: Certainly not. And I don't believe they are an enemy of the people either. These are attitudes I think the president says publicly and more so in private and I think it's part of the destructive consequences of him being in office.
BLITZER: He wasn't laughing or joking. He meant it seriously.
BOLTON: Yes. I mean, it's like saying he thinks John Kerry should be prosecuted for violating the Logan Act, the old statute that prohibits Americans from interfering in foreign policy. The Logan Act is unconstitutional. There is no chance the Justice Department is going to prosecute him but he says it all the time anyway.
BLITZER: In your book, you say there is additional information that could be very damaging to the president that you weren't able to include because the White House redaction process was going through. They made you delete that from the book. Without giving us specifics, you're obviously not going to give us the specifics, but is that information more damaging than the very damaging information that already is in the book?
BOLTON: Look, I made a concerted effort in writing this book not to reveal any classified information. I've been in national security matters for a long time. I understand what classified information is and just about the last thing I could imagine doing was releasing information.
BLITZER: How damaging was the redacted information they made you delete?
BOLTON: The last thing I would do is release information that would be damaging to the country. If there were more space and more time and maybe I'll write this book in 30 years, I don't think anything I left out would make the president look better.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the politics of this. You say in the book that the only thing President Trump -- that keeping the president in check right now is wanting to win re-election. So if he does win a second term, doesn't have to worry anymore about elections, what are you most afraid about of what he might do in a second term?
BOLTON: Well, as a conservative Republican, I think when the president is untethered from the responsibility to where the real feelings of the Republican Party are, there's no telling what he's going to do.
And I want to be clear: I understand. Obviously, all presidents factor politics into their decisions on almost every subject. It would be unnatural if they didn't.
This is a qualitatively different kind of president where in his first term, re-election has been almost the sole focus.
BLITZER: You say you won't vote for Joe Biden. You won't vote for President Trump. You want him to be a one-term president. Will America be safer in a Biden pre -- with a Biden presidency or a second term Trump presidency?
BOLTON: Look, I think trying to compare Biden and Trump is comparing incommensurables. I don't think it's possible to do. I think philosophically Joe Biden is in the wrong place. I've known him for a long time.
BLITZER: Which president would make the country more in danger?
BOLTON: The danger of the Trump presidency is his lack of focus and decision-making on what could be crises. I recount in the book conversations I have with John Kelly on this point. I think his -- his conduct in the coronavirus pandemic shows what the risks are.
And in a more serious crisis, in a more serious crisis can easily be envisaged, you'd have to worry he would follow the same pattern.
BLITZER: Well, the final question, I just want to be precise. Do you believe that supporters of the president who might be skeptical of your criticisms, what should they understand from your perspective before they cast their vote in November?
BOLTON: That I'm very worried about entrusting key national security decisions to Donald Trump. I hope people read the book. They may vote for Trump anyway. At least they'll know what they're voting for.
BLITZER: But you would be more comfortable with a Trump presidency or Biden presidency?
BOLTON: I wish we had --
BLITZER: That's the choice here.
BLITZER: You got to make a decision.
BOLTON: No, look, that's what I thought in 2016. I've changed my mind. I'm going to write in a conservative Republican. I'm not going to violate my philosophy.
But I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump.
BLITZER: That they would be equally -- equally dangerous to the American people?
BOLTON: And I live in Maryland and my vote doesn't make any difference anyway.
BLITZER: But what if you lived in Florida or you lived in Ohio?
BOLTON: I would write in a conservative Republican.
BLITZER: You still wouldn't make a decision (ph).
BOLTON: That's right. I'm not going to vote for Donald Trump. That's one less vote than he got in 2016.
BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir." John Bolton, the former national security adviser, is the author.
Thanks very much for coming in, spending significant time with us.
BOLTON: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
We're going to have analysis of what we just heard when we come back.
BLITZER: All right. Let's break down my wide-rading (ph) -- wide- ranging conversation with the former national security adviser John Bolton, including his denunciation of the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
We're joined by our political and national security experts. Gloria Borger and Jim Sciutto are with us.
Gloria, what stood out to you?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, what stood out to me is the way he described the president's actions during this pandemic. It's clear that he finds this pattern very recognizable.
But he said this is a president who turned a blind eye at the outset of this and he doesn't have confidence in the way he's handling it. He said there's an empty chair in the Oval Office and that this president chooses political calculation above all else.
So, the way he's talking about testing say we don't have to do more tests, he said, it doesn't surprise me because everything is about the election. Everything is about how he is perceived by the American public and not about what he is doing, Wolf. And I think that's actually quite scary coming from a man who was the former national security adviser.
BLITZER: Yeah, what about you, Jim? What stood out to you?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, listen, it's a damning --
BLITZER: Hold on a second, we'll try to fix that connection with Jim.
Let me go back to Gloria.
On national security issues, Gloria, he was the national security adviser to the president of the United States for 17 months. He minces no words. He basically says this president is a total disaster.
BORGER: Well, he says, there is confusion, a lack of systematic analysis and study that you're not dealing with a president who has any particular philosophy in terms of dealing with authoritarians. He said to you, look, this is -- this is a president who personalizes policy. So, it's about his relationship rather than any kind of policy the United States itself should have.
BLITZER: All right. I think we reconnected with Jim.
What stood out, Jim, to you?
SCIUTTO: So, I'll be brief. It's a damning portrait on the nation's most national -- pressing national security issues. No strategy, personal political interests over national interests, and ignoring the advice of advisers and intelligence community, et cetera, just to what he hears from friends.
And that's a consistent portrait not just from Bolton but from Kelly, Tillerson, Mattis, and others. And folks at home, they can call John Bolton a liar. Are all of them liars, all these people that served the president at the highest level?
Listen, that's hard to believe that they're all liars when they describe him so consistently. It is an alarming portrait of a sitting U.S. president.
BLITZER: All right. I want both you guys to stand by.
We're going to have much more after another quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: M y thanks once again to the president's former national security adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, for coming here to THE SITUATION ROOM, taking all the tough questions. His book, "The Room Where It Happened" really is an explosive account of his 17 months inside the Trump White House.
It's got eye-opening revelations. If you want to know what's going on in that White House, it's a good book to read.
I would love to hear from you, our viewers. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Also, you can tweet the show @CNNsitroom. We would love to know what you thought.
Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.