WASHINGTON — President Trump sure is mad at John Bolton.
Trump threatened his former national security adviser with “criminal liability” Monday if Bolton actually releases his tell-all memoir about issues at the core of Trump’s impeachment, as Bolton is now planning to do next week.
“I will consider every conversation with me as highly classified,” Trump said Monday. “If the book gets out, he’s broken the law. And I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.”
Trump’s threat follows Bolton’s decision to proceed with publication of the long-delayed book on June 23 in defiance of White House objections. Bolton’s lawyer has argued that the prolonged declassification review is no more than a pretext to censure Bolton, who reportedly describes a White House driven by the urge to secure Trump’s reelection above all else.
The dispute now presents the remarkable spectacle of a sitting president threatening to turn loose the full prosecutorial fury of his own Department of Justice against the man he once trusted with helping him make his most important national security decisions.
Bolton writes that the Ukraine affair, which prompted Trump’s impeachment last December, was just the tip of Trump’s misbehavior iceberg.
“Trump’s Ukraine-like transgressions existed across the full range of his foreign policy — and Bolton documents exactly what those were, and attempts by him and others in the Administration to raise alarms about them,” Bolton’s publisher wrote in a press release last week.
Trump’s bombastic threat of criminal prosecution may be hot air. Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, wrote last week that Bolton took care to avoid including any classified information.
But Trump has been widely accused of bending the criminal justice system to protect his friends and target his enemies, including by hundreds of former Department of Justice officials. And it’s not clear how far he can really push the DOJ to get his way.
Trump stopped short of confirming a report by ABC News that said he’s going to seek a civil injunction to stop the book, although he strongly hinted that move is likely. Instead, he railed about Bolton’s “criminal liability,” and insisted that every conversation he has as president is a state secret.
Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in December for abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Bolton boasted about his knowledge of the situation and was seen as the key impeachment witness against Trump, but he never actually testified. Bolton spurned the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. He later offered to speak to the GOP-controlled Senate but was never called by Trump’s Republican allies in the upper chamber.
Cover: Former national security adviser John Bolton takes part in a discussion on global leadership at Vanderbilt University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)