Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

John Bolton Tells the Truth

Even if they don’t like him, every Republican and conservative in Washington knows that Bolton doesn’t make things up. What will they do now?
June 17, 2020
John Bolton Tells the Truth

Twice over the last few years, I’ve met with individuals who had recently departed the Trump administration after serving at very senior levels. I’d known these individuals before Donald Trump descended his escalator five years ago. I hadn’t been in touch with them during their time in the administration so as not to cause complications for them if somehow it became known we’d talked. I believed these individuals had chosen to serve this problematic president with good intentions, and probably accomplished more good—or, more precisely, prevented more harm—than many on the outside realized.

When these individuals left, I was led to understand through intermediaries that they would not resist, they might even welcome, an invitation to talk. So talk we did, at some length, privately.

I can report one exchange I had with both individuals. I said to each of them: “You know I’m alarmed by President Donald Trump. If I’d seen what you saw up close, would I be a bit reassured—or even more alarmed?”

Both answered promptly.

One responded, “You’d be more alarmed.”

The other simply said, “Twice.”

I was a bit befuddled and asked him what he meant. “You’d be twice as alarmed,” he explained.

So I’m not particularly surprised by John Bolton’s revelations. (I should make clear that neither of the individuals described above was Bolton.)

But whether or not one is surprised by what Bolton reports, no one should really doubt the truth of it. I have no doubt that Bolton is telling the truth. Not simply because of my two, as it were, generally corroborating sources. But because I’ve known John Bolton a long time, and John Bolton is an honest man. He tells the truth.

Full stop.

John Bolton is neither a liar nor a fantasist. John Bolton may not be the epitome of warmth, humor, or even kindness. But he is honest.

Nor is he the type to get confused. He is a meticulous note-taker. When we read Bolton’s book, we will almost certainly be reading the nearest thing to the truth about the Trump administration that we’re likely to get before historians have a chance to get inside the administration’s archives.

Here is what is relevant for Republican elites going forward: They have known John Bolton for a long time, too. Almost every Republican elected official, every influential Washington conservative, and many Republican donors know John Bolton. And they, too, know he’s honest.

So what do they have to say about a president who blesses Chinese concentration camps, pleads for re-election help from an enemy dictator, and routinely subordinates the national interest to personal and political considerations?

How can they continue to support this president?

I’m sure they will find ways. But those who continue to support Trump need to accept that they’re supporting a man who has done what Bolton says Trump has done. And those who support a Trump second term need to accept that they are supporting four more years in office for a president who has done what Bolton says Trump has done.

And those who continue to keep silent are keeping silent from us, their fellow citizens, their judgment of a president who has done what Bolton says Trump has done.

Enough. Bolton has spoken. Surely there are others who will now dare to disturb the sound of silence.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.