Meet John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser who wrote a bombshell tell-all memoir about his time in the White House

Denis Balibouse/ReutersUS National Security Advisor John Bolton.
  • John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, is back in the spotlight with the upcoming release of his memoir “The Room Where It Happened.”
  • Bolton characterises Trump as erratic and unfit, and makes a number of explosive claims about his handling of foreign policy and national security.
  • The Justice Department is currently suing Bolton to prevent the book from being released on its scheduled publication date of June 23 as Trump denounces it as full of “lies” and “made up stories.”
  • Here’s how Bolton went from being a mid-level bureaucrat in the Reagan administration to the most important person directing US national security policy, and now, one of Trump’s biggest foes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, is back in the spotlight with the upcoming release of his new tell-all memoir “The Room Where It Happened,” set to be published by Simon & Schuster on June 23.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal published details from the memoir on Wednesday based on prepublication copies they obtained of the book.

Bolton, who characterises Trump as an erratic and unfit president, makes a number of explosive and damning claims about Trump’s handling of foreign policy and national security matters in the book.

Bolton says that in addition to being un-interested and un-informed about several aspects of foreign policy, Trump went out of his way to appease and curry favour with foreign dictators and authoritarians like Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

As the Justice Department sues Bolton to prevent the book’s public release, arguing that it contains classified information, Trump is publicly blasting the memoir as “a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad.”

Bolton’s re-emergence in the public eye comes months after Trump abruptly announced in a September 2019 tweet he had fired Bolton because Trump “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.”

Bolton, a graduate of Yale law school, began working on foreign policy and national security issues under the Reagan administration in the early 1980s, where he quickly developed a reputation as a defence hawk sceptical of the US bureaucracy and international institutions.

Over the years, Bolton has held some controversial stances, including advocating for preemptive military strikes on North Korea and Iran, regime change in the latter, and pushing Russia for harbouring Edward Snowden.

As an undersecretary for arms control in the Bush administration, Bolton also pushed the now-discredited belief that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction which served as the justification for the US invasion of that country.

He later served as the US ambassador to the United Nations – an institution he routinely criticised as ineffectual – where he continued to push for sanctions on countries accused of possessing or developing nuclear weapons.

Bolton served as Trump’s national security adviser for about 16 months, and pushed to fulfil his decades-long vision of the US engaging in a direct confrontation with Iran, according to a May 2019 profile of Bolton published in the New Yorker.

He then became a key figure in Trump’s impeachment, as some of his subordinates in the National Security Council testified that Trump and his associates held up a $US400 million military aid package to Ukraine in exchange for their government announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Bolton, however, frustrated Democrats but not appearing to testify before the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. The Republican-controlled US Senate did not vote to call him as a witness.

Here’s how Bolton went from being a mid-level bureaucrat in the Reagan administration to the most important person directing US national security policy and now one of Trump’s foes.

Bolton grew up in a working-class family in Baltimore. He attended Yale College and Yale Law School on a scholarship, graduating with a law degree in 1974. At Yale, he befriended future Supreme Court Justice and fellow conservative Clarence Thomas.

Yale Law School/FacebookYale Law School

Yale Law School,
The New Yorker

In the early 70s, Bolton avoided being drafted into the Vietnam War by joining the Maryland National Guard. He later wrote that he “didn’t want to waste time on a futile struggle.”

Seth Wenig/APJohn Bolton.

The New Yorker

Bolton’s career in foreign policy began in the Reagan administration when he served in a variety of different positions in the DOJ and State Department.

AP Photo/Koji SasaharaJohn Bolton

The Atlantic

Throughout his career, Bolton has been involved in some of the most controversial incidents in US foreign policy history, including the Iran-Contra affair. Bolton was assistant attorney general at that time.

Source: The Nation

While Bolton has worked in the federal government for the majority of his professional career, he’s frequently been a critic of government bureaucracy and so-called “careerists,” taking a more aggressive approach to policy in his own career.

Jim Young/ReutersNational Security Adviser John Bolton.

The Atlantic,
The New Yorker

Bolton’s reputation as a maverick from his days at Yale carried over into his professional career, as he pushed unorthodox and hardline views on foreign policy and ruffled some feathers in the process.

YouTubeJohn Bolton in the early 1990s.

Bolton under George W. Bush’s administration was the Undersecretary for Arms Control, selected for the position by former Vice President Dick Cheney, a fellow defence hawk. One of Bolton’s former aides described him as “Cheney’s spy” to the New Yorker.

Carolyn Kaster/APFormer Vice President Dick Cheney, second from right, and National Security Adviser John Bolton, third from left.

The New Yorker

In that role, Bolton struck a deal to prevent the International Criminal Court — a frequent target of Bolton’s criticism — from prosecuting Americans under international law.

Associated PressJohn Bolton,

The Washington Post

Around that time, Bolton began publicly claiming that Cuba was developing nuclear weapons in coordination with Libya and Iran, despite pushback from the State Department, who said there was no evidence to support those claims.

Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesFormer Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

The New Yorker

The New Yorker reported that Bolton forcefully retaliated against a fellow State Department official who questioned Bolton’s claims, attempting to fire him and shutting out his boss.

AP Photo/Susan WalshJohn Bolton

The New Yorker

From his position, Bolton played a major role in justifying the US invasion of Iraq by advancing the now-discredited position that Saddam Hussein was developing chemical weapons.

AP Photo/Dennis CookJohn Bolton

The New Yorker

In one dramatic incident, Bolton flew to Europe to personally confront a Brazilian diplomat, Jose Bustani, who was advocating for Iraq to join the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

AP Photo/Serge LigtenbergJose Bustani

The New Yorker

Iraq joining the treaty would have involved outside inspections to ensure the country wasn’t developing chemical weapons, precluding the need for a foreign power to invade Iraq and oust Hussein.

(AP Photo/INA)Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1995.

The New Yorker

Bolton reportedly demanded that Bustani resign and threatened him by saying “we know you have two sons in New York. We know your daughter is in London. We know where your wife is,” which Bolton denies. Bolton then led an effort to oust Bustani from his position.

AP Photo/Serge LigtenbergJose Bustani

The New Yorker ,
NBC News

Despite the fact that no chemical or other weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bolton still stood by the US’ invasion of Iraq and the subsequent years of war as recently as 2015.

AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

Washington Examiner

In 2005, Bush nominated Bolton as the US’ ambassador to the UN — an institution Bolton has regularly decried as useless and ineffectual.

David Karp/AP

The New Yorker

The New Yorker described Bolton’s reputation during his brief tenure at the UN as “abrasive but knowledgeable,” often bristling with fellow diplomats. He did achieve, however, his goal of levying multilateral sanctions on North Korea.

AP Photo/Mary AlatafferJohn Bolton

The New Yorker

After Bolton left the Bush administration in 2006, he harshly criticised it for dialling back sanctions on North Korea, describing the administration as mired in “ineffable sadness” and “intellectual collapse.” Bush responded by saying he believed Bolton was “not credible.”

AP Photo/J. Scott ApplewhiteJohn Bolton and George W. Bush in 2005

Source: The Atlantic, The New Yorker

In the next decade, Bolton worked as a Fox News contributor and earned money giving paid speeches. He also chaired the controversial Gatestone Institute, which has been criticised for peddling Islamophobia and misinformation about Islam.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, FileJohn Bolton

New Yorker

Bolton was initially passed over for secretary of state when Trump took office, but he joined the administration in March 2018 as national security adviser, replacing Gen. H.R. McMaster — who had taken a more restrained and measured approach to US policy before he left the administration.

AP Photo/Andrew HarnikJohn Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump

New Yorker

Like Trump, Bolton is sceptical of international and multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation and prefers the US to take a unilateral approach to world issues.

AP Photo/Andrew HarnikJohn Bolton and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin

New Yorker

Current and former national security officials told the New Yorker that Bolton is taking a more unilateral approach to policy within the US government itself, forgoing previously regular meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and intelligence officials.

Associated Press/Charlie NeibergallFormer U.N. Ambassador John Bolton

New Yorker

Bolton has long argued for the US to preemptively strike Iran and for the US to engage in regime change efforts, with one former official telling the New Yorker he’s had an “anal focus” on the country for decades.

Andrew Harnik/APJohn Bolton

New Yorker

In the spring and summer of 2019, Bolton used his position to push the US towards a conflict with Iran. On May 5, he announced the US would be sending aircraft carriers and B-52 bomber planes to the Persian Gulf to counter any Iranian aggression.

US Navy PhotoThe Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)

Business Insider

Some Democratic members of Congress said Bolton and his allies drastically overplayed Iran’s threat to the US. Bolton has said the US is “not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack.”

Andrew Harnik/APJohn Bolton

Sources: Washington Post, Business Insider

While the White House ultimately shelved a reported plan to deploy 120,000 US troops to the Middle East, Trump threatened the US could cause “the official end of Iran” in a conflict.

Associated PressPresident Donald Trump.

Sources: Business Insider,New York Times

In a September 10 tweet, Trump abruptly announced he had fired Bolton, writing “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration.”

REUTERS/Leah Millis


Donald Trump/Twitter

Bolton’s firing came after a report in The New York Times described him as “the leading voice” against Trump’s idea to bring the Taliban to Camp David for negotiation to finally end US military involvement in Afghanistan.

AP Photo/Alex BrandonJohn Bolton

New York Times

Bolton appears to have been completely blindsided by his firing, tweeting that he offered his resignation the night before but Trump told him they would “talk about it.”

Jonathan Ernst/ReutersPresident Donald Trump speaks to reporters with National Security Adviser John Bolton looking on in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 3, 2019.

Source: John Bolton/Twitter

Amid the House’s investigation into Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate a 2020 political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, House Democrats asked Bolton, a “key witness,” to testify in the impeachment probe.

Ukrainian Presidential Press SerUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meets with U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton in Kiev.JPG

Source: NBC News

Bolton’s attorney, Chuck Cooper, said Bolton would not “appear voluntarily,” citing an existing lawsuit on whether individuals are required to testify on a congressional subpoena.

Associated Press/Susan WalshTop U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, left, and career Foreign Service officer George Kent, arrived to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

Source: NBC News

In a complete reversal, John Bolton announced January 6 that he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed in the Senate impeachment trial with or without the approval of the president.

Josh Roberts/ReutersShortly after Bolton’s announcement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the upper chamber could move forward with a trial without calling witnesses.

Source: Insider

Despite his possible impeachment testimony, Bolton expresses criticism of the House’s efforts to limit Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, calling the 1973 War Power Resolution “unconstitutional.”

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Source: The Hill

Bolton surprised the Trump camp again when a bombshell New York Times report described an upcoming book in which the former adviser claims Trump personally told him he would withhold Ukraine’s aid.

STR/NurPhoto via Getty ImagesNational Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during his a press-conference in Kiev, Ukraine, on 28 August 2019.

Source: Business Insider

The claim shattered Trump’s biggest argument that there were no firsthand witnesses who could confirm Trump established an aid hold until there was an investigation into the Bidens.

ReutersU.S. President Trump departs for travel to Louisiana from the White House in Washington

Source: Business Insider

Bolton’s claim cast a shadow over the opening arguments of Trump’s defence team in the Senate impeachment proceedings, and some predicted it could affect the president’s overall defence. Eventually, Trump was acquitted on both charges.

ReutersThe U.S. Capitol is seen at night during Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Trump in Washington

Source: Business Insider, Intelligencer

Bolton came back into the spotlight in June 2020 with the release of his forthcoming memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” which divulges his time in the White House. Bolton reportedly received a $US2 million advance for the book from publisher Simon & Schuster.

Associated PressFILE – In this Sept. 30, 2019, file photo, former national security adviser John Bolton gestures while speakings at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Sources: Business Insider, New York Times

Bolton makes a number of explosive and damning claims about Trump’s handling of foreign policy and national security matters in the book, set to be published June 23.


Bolton accuses Democrats of “impeachment malpractice” and says Trump may have committed multiple impeachable offences. But Bolton has faced a barrage of criticism for not voluntarily appearing before Congress during the impeaching hearings themselves, and waiting until months later to make a profit off of his bombshell claims and stories.

Official White House Photo by Tia DufourWhite House National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton talks to reporters Wednesday, May 1, 2019, outside the West Wing entrance of the White House.

Sources: Business Insider, Washington Post, Boston Globe

In the book, Bolton claims that Trump went out of his way to appease foreign dictators and authoritarians like Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Associated Press/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisU.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, leave the stage together at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.

Business Insider

Bolton claims that Trump asked Xi to buy up American agricultural products to help his re-election chances and told Xi he supported China putting Uighur Muslims in concentration camps.

AP Photo

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider

The Department of Justice is suing Bolton to prevent the book from being released, arguing its contents contain classified information. Trump, meanwhile, has accused the memoir of being “a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad.”

Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadPresident Donald J. Trump, joined by National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaks on the phone with Iraq Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi Wednesday, December 26, 2018, during his visit to Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq.

Sources: Business Insider, Donald Trump/Twitter

In addition to the criticism of Bolton for not voluntarily testifying before Congress when he had the chance, his book has been panned by some reviews.

Jonathan Drake/ReutersFormer National Security Advisor John Bolton speaking at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, on February 17, 2020.

“The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much,” The New York Times book reviewer Jennifer Szalai wrote. “It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.”

Read more:

Trump’s attempt to block John Bolton’s book by saying its contents are classified appears to contradict his claim that it is full of lies

Trump lashes out against John Bolton in response to damning allegations in tell-all memoir, which the president says is ‘made up of lies and fake stories’

‘I think Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle’: John Bolton unloads about Trump’s relationship with Putin

‘Who cares about that?’: Bolton said Trump wouldn’t make a statement on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre because he was prioritising a deal with China

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