Donald Trump urged Chinese president Xi Jinping to buy more soyabeans and other agricultural produce from politically important US states to help him win re-election, according to an explosive new book from his former national security adviser John Bolton.
According to the Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the memoir, titled The Room Where It Happened, Mr Bolton claims Mr Trump conducted foreign policy across the board to benefit himself politically.
“I am hard pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” Mr Bolton wrote.
When the US and Chinese leaders met in Osaka at the G20 summit in 2019, Mr Trump stunned his team by asking Mr Xi for help, according to the Washington Post, which obtained the memoir ahead of its June 23 release.
“He . . . stunningly turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” the Washington Post cited Mr Bolton as writing. “He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soyabeans and wheat, in the electoral outcome.”
Mr Bolton said he wanted to quote Mr Trump in the memoir but that the government’s pre-publication review process had “decided otherwise”.
The White House has tried for months to delay publication of the book. The US justice department sued Mr Bolton this week, claiming that his book would violate the non-disclosure agreement he signed when joining the White House.
The Financial Times reported last year that Mr Trump had told Mr Xi at the Osaka G20 that he would tone down criticism of China’s handling of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong to help revive then-stalled trade negotiations. The White House did not refute the claims at the time.
The Washington Post said Mr Bolton described Mr Trump as “erratic” and “stunningly uniformed” about foreign policy. The hawkish foreign policy expert, whose views frequently put him at odds with the president, said foreign leaders were often successful in manipulating Mr Trump.
Mr Bolton said Russian president Vladimir Putin succeeded in boosting Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro by comparing Juan Guaidó — whom Washington recognises as the legitimate leader of the country — to Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election.
The Washington Post added that Mr Trump also told Turkey’s president that he would “take care of things” after Recep Tayyip Erdogan told him that a Turkish company under investigation in the US was innocent.
Mr Trump said the investigators — prosecutors in the southern district of New York — were appointed under President Barack Obama and that the problem would be “fixed” when he named new prosecutors to the office.
Mr Bolton was so concerned that Mr Trump was willing to help Mr Xi and Mr Erdogan that he raised the issue with William Barr, the attorney-general.
He said several top officials, including secretary of state Mike Pompeo and then chief of staff John Kelly, had considered resigning at one point.
Mr Bolton said Mr Pompeo quipped that he was “having a cardiac arrest” after listening to a phone call about North Korea that Mr Trump held with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, ahead of his June 2018 summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
According to the Washington Post, Mr Trump expressed surprise in a meeting with Theresa May, then UK prime minister, that the UK was a “nuclear power”. On another occasion, he asked if Finland was part of Russia.
Mr Bolton also said that Mr Trump had threatened at one point to “walk out” of the Nato transatlantic security alliance and “not defend” nations who had not contributed enough money. When Mr Bolton pushed back, Mr Trump said: “Do you want to do something historic?”
According to the Washington Post’s account, Mr Bolton concluded that Mr Trump “saw conspiracies under rocks” and was “stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government”.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi