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Overview Of John Bolton's Book 'The Room Where It Happened'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here are some background facts about John Bolton. He is a veteran U.S. diplomat, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations appointed by President Bush. He's a controversial figure for his skepticism of international agreements. That made him popular with many Republicans and earned him many appearances on Fox News. President Trump made him national security adviser. These are the credentials Bolton brings to his book about 18 months in the White House. Bolton describes - and these are his words, we're just reporting here - Bolton describes a shockingly erratic and ignorant president who asked foreign leaders for help with his own reelection. That's a paraphrase of the book. Bolton will be on the program next week, and NPR White House correspondent Franco Franco Ordoñez has obtained the book, "The Room Where It Happened." He's been reading. I've been reading. Franco, good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who's a foreign leader that Trump asked for election help?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, for one, Chinese President Xi Jinping. You know, Bolton writes that during a dinner with G-20 leaders, Trump and President Xi were talking about bilateral relations when, as Bolton put it, Trump stunningly turned the conversation to the November election. He said the president, quote, "pleaded" with his Chinese counterpart to buy American agricultural products, which would help him get the vote of very important farmers in the United States. You know, Bolton frankly writes that he's hard pressed to identify any significant Trump decision that wasn't driven by reelection calculations. And, you know, I have the book here. It's over 500 pages. The index alone is 33 pages, and it details, you know, Trump's - their relationship for the last 18 months and all the things that went down before their relationship crumbled.

INSKEEP: And, of course, in Washington, people will be going through the index to find references to themselves or key people around them. There are some references in there to plenty of autocratic leaders, not just Xi Jinping. What does he say about that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Bolton goes so far as to charge Trump as doing personal favors for dictators, such as running interference on U.S. investigations. Bolton writes about Trump's dealings with Russia. He recalls the Trump joint news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where he appeared to side with the Russian leader over U.S. intelligence agencies. He says that Putin must have been laughing uproariously - those are his words - afterwards. You know, we talked about President Xi. He also said that he told President Xi and China to go ahead with concentration camps for the largely minority Uighur dissidents. And he writes that many Trump Cabinet officials who are seen as loyalists, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, actually make fun of him behind his back about his lack of knowledge about foreign policy. Bolton writes that Trump asked if Finland was part of Russia, just as an example.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention one of many things that Bolton writes about - Ukraine? Quote, "throughout my West Wing tenure, Trump wanted to do what he wanted to do based on what he knew and what he saw as his own best personal interests, and in Ukraine, he seemed finally able to have it all" - one of many things Bolton says about Ukraine for which the president was impeached. Why didn't Bolton testify in that impeachment?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's really the million-dollar question. Democrats are angry. They're still angry about that, that Bolton resisted taking part in the impeachment proceedings when, you know, these kind of allegations could have made a bigger impact. You know, interestingly, Bolton pushes back. He goes so far to accuse House Democrats of, quote, "impeachment malpractice" because they did not subpoena him and wait for a court to order his testimony. And he also argues that they were wrong to restrict the inquiry to Trump's dealings with Ukraine. And they say he should have or they should have looked at some of these other actions that we're talking about, including Trump's willingness to get involved in these investigations to curry favor with some of these autocratic leaders.

INSKEEP: So John Bolton is saying he could have been impeached for a lot more. What has the White House response been?

ORDOÑEZ: President Trump was interviewed last night. Here's actually what he told Fox's Sean Hannity.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But he broke the law - very simple. I mean, as much as it's going to be broken, this is highly classified. That's the highest - it's highly classified information. And he did not have approval. That's come out now very loud and very strong.

ORDOÑEZ: And Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, he also came out and addressed some of these China allegations. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT LIGHTHIZER: Absolutely untrue - never happened. I was there. I've no recollection of that ever happening. I don't believe it's true. I don't believe it ever happened.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, that was after the Justice Department made a last-ditch effort to try to block publication of the book. And prosecutors allege that nondisclosure agreements that Bolton signed as part of his employment, that he's violated those. But all in all, this is probably just going to drum up more interest in the book.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.