U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said former national security adviser John Bolton’s claim that President Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for help winning the 2020 election is “absolutely untrue.”
"Absolutely untrue, never happened. I was there, I have no recollection of that ever happening. I don't believe it's true, I don't believe it ever happened," Lighthizer said Wednesday at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.
On Wednesday, the New York Times — along with other newspapers – reported the allegations based on a manuscript of “The Room Where it Happened,” Bolton’s memoir set to be released Tuesday. Fox News has confirmed the quotes and scenarios laid out in the Times’ story.
The forthcoming 592-page memoir says Trump regularly gave “personal favors to dictators he liked," backing the idea of more concentration camps in China, and asking Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him in the 2020 election.
Bolton accused Trump, in a meeting with Xi, of linking trade negotiations to his own political gain, asking China to buy American agricultural products to help him win farm states.
Lighthizer said he was at the meeting in question and would have recollected such an exchange, and disputed Bolton's account.
"Xi told Trump that the U.S.-China relationship was the most important in the world. He said that some (unnamed) American political figures were making erroneous judgments by calling for a new Cold War with China," Bolton wrote, according to an excerpt reviewed by Fox News. "Whether Xi meant to finger the Democrats or some of us sitting on the U.S. side of the table, I don’t know, but Trump immediately assumed that Xi meant the Democrats."
That's when, according to Bolton, the conversation took a troubling turn.
"Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win," Bolton wrote. "He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise."
The president then urged China to "buy as many American farm products as China could," Bolton wrote, and "Xi agreed that we should restart the trade talks, welcoming Trump’s concession that there would be no new tariffs and agreeing that the two negotiating teams should resume discussions on farm products on a priority basis."
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who asked Lighthizer to weigh in on the matter, said he hoped to verify whether Bolton and Lighthizer were recalling the same meeting.
"I assume it's the same meeting and if it's not I assume we'll find out, because if it's true it shows how clear it is that the administration doesn't really have any intention of actually solving our trade problems with China," Menendez said.
Bolton also wrote: "Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China."
Separately, Bolton said he met with Attorney General Bill Barr concerning Trump's penchant for giving "personal favors to dictators he liked," including in China and Turkey. "The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Bolton said.
Trump allies have accused Bolton of trying to sell books with incendiary claims, noting that he was paid $2 million for the memoir and refused to testify during Trump's impeachment proceedings.
The White House has repeatedly challenged Bolton's credibility. A string of resurfaced video clips earlier this year led Trump to tweet "GAME OVER!" — including an interview of Bolton in Auust 2019 where he appears to have no issues with Trump foreign policy concerning Ukraine or any other nation. The interview seemingly contradicted assertions in Bolton's book that Trump explicitly told him he wanted to tie military aid to Ukraine to an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden. (Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said his communications with Trump involved no pressure for any investigation.)
Fox News' Gregg Re contributed to this report.