Not even an explosive tell-all book from former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, a popular mainstay in conservative politics for decades, was enough to dislodge Republicans from their support for President Donald Trump.
GOP lawmakers turned to familiar lines on Thursday to discuss the shocking allegations detailed by Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for over a year, in his forthcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened.”
“This looks like book sales more than anything else,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “He’s only speaking right before his book is coming out. Nothing about that smells right. Nothing.”
Bolton, one of the most controversial figures in American foreign policy, describes Trump in his book as a “president for whom getting reelected was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant endangering or weakening the nation.”
He argues Trump was guilty of transgressions not just in Ukraine, for which he was impeached by the House, but in countries all over the world.
According to Bolton, Trump asked China’s President Xi Jinping for reelection help and told him to keep building concentration camps for the mass detention of Uighur Muslims, “which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.”
Bolton also alleges Trump privately told him reporters deserved to be locked up in prison. “These people should be executed. They are scumbags,” Bolton quotes Trump as saying.
Some Republicans sought to undermine Bolton’s credibility, however, suggesting that many of the allegations may not be true because Bolton had included them in a for-profit book, rather than speaking out about them earlier this year.
“I’ve been around here when people try to sell books, so I don’t have anything to contribute on that front,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.
“Money drives a lot of people to say a lot of things,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) added.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), meanwhile, said Bolton’s book and his claim that Trump sought Xi’s assistance in his reelection bid “sort of validates the dealmaking part of Donald Trump.”
“[Bolton] describes other leaders playing Donald Trump like a fiddle. I think it could just as easily be Donald Trump playing them like a fiddle,” Cramer posited.
Bolton wasn’t willing to speak out against Trump during the House impeachment proceedings and the Senate trial, which ultimately acquitted the president, in February. At the time, Bolton threatened a legal battle if Congress subpoenaed him and ultimately did not testify.
Senate Republicans also blocked requests for new evidence during the trial, including ones seeking Bolton’s testimony.
“I wish we could have heard him in the impeachment trial,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the only GOP senator who voted to include new evidence, told reporters on Thursday when asked about his reaction to Bolton’s book.
The Utah Republican, a frequent critic of Trump, called Bolton a “very credible” person. He also addressed Bolton’s claim that Trump urged Xi to build concentration camps in China.
“If that’s accurate, that would obviously be a reprehensible comment, but we don’t know if that’s accurate,” Romney said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), meanwhile, said she did not regret her vote against including new evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial.
“I made the decision I made at the time that I made it. There’s no going back,” Murkowski said.
Bolton’s book is only the latest condemnation of Trump from one of the president’s former top aides, just months away from the November 2020 election. Earlier this month, Trump’s former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis penned an extraordinary letter calling Trump a juvenile and divisive leader who poses a fundamental threat to the republic.
One shouldn’t even be surprised by how Senate Republicans responded to that.