On Thursday, all three network morning shows seized on excerpts from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s new book trashing President Trump. The NBC, ABC, and CBS broadcasts repeatedly hailed supposed “bombshells” and “explosive” revelations in the nasty tell-all, including Trump’s allegedly treasonous attempt to get China to buy American agricultural products.
Opening NBC’s Today show, co-host Hoda Kotb proclaimed: “Bolton bombshells. The first excerpts from the former national security advisor’s explosive memoir go public. President Trump accused of asking China to help him get re-elected and offering his own help to dictators.”
Introducing a full report on the topic minutes later, fellow co-host Craig Melvin continued to emphasize the incendiary nature of the book: “NBC News has explosive new details from that new book from President Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton.” White House correspondent Peter Alexander chimed in: “This is a blistering book from John Bolton, once one of the president’s closest advisers....arguing that the president’s thinking is not grounded in philosophy or policy or any grand strategy, but it’s simply grounded in Trump.”
The headline on screen throughout the segment blared: “Trump Responds to Bolton Bombshell; Former Top Adviser Says President Asked China for Reelection Help.”
Alexander eventually explained what that “reelection help” from China actually amounted to: “During negotiations with China’s President Xi, Bolton says President Trump asked the Chinese leader to buy American soybeans and wheat to boost his electoral prospects in farm states, ‘pleading with XI to ensure he’d win.’”
So asking the leader of a foreign government to purchase mass quantities of produce from American farmers is now the definition of election inference?
“ABC News exclusive. The former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s first interview ahead of that bombshell book. His explosive accusations about President Trump....Calling him erratic, foolish, and stunningly uninformed,” co-host Michael Strahan eagerly declared at the top of ABC’s Good Morning America.
Minutes later, fellow co-host Amy Robach told viewers: “Let’s get right to our ABC News exclusive with former National Security Advisor John Bolton ahead of that explosive new book where he presents a scathing portrait of President Trump.” Seconds after that, Strahan repeated: “Chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz sat down with Bolton for his first interview about the book, and it was explosive.”
We get it! You think the book is “explosive”! Knock off the hyperbole and get on with actual reporting.
Like NBC, ABC’s Raddatz thought Trump lobbying on behalf of American farmers was somehow dangerous: “Bolton says Trump asked China’s President XI to buy U.S. soybeans and wheat to help Trump with votes from farm states, ‘pleading with XI to ensure he’d win.’”
Not wanting to be left out, CBS This Morning made sure to follow the talking points as well, with co-host Gayle King warning: “Bolton bombshells. The former National Security Advisor accuses the President of seeking China's help with his re-election, doing favors for dictators, and obstruction as a way of life.”
In a report minutes later, correspondent Paula Reid touted: “...Bolton provides a detailed criticism of the Trump administration from inside high-level meetings. He describes the president as ‘erratic’ and ‘stunningly uninformed’...” She then highlighted how “Bolton recounts how the President asked China to buy a lot of American agricultural products to help him win farm states in 2020.”
During a segment in the 8:00 a.m. ET hour, King turned to who she thought was the “perfect person” to ask about Bolton’s accusations – Democratic Congressman and Trump impeachment crusader Adam Schiff.
Ironically, when Bolton was first selected by Trump to be national security advisor in 2018, the networks feared that the “controversial” selection was just the latest addition to the president’s “very hardline” team of White House aides.
Here is a transcript of the June 18 coverage on NBC’s Today show:
7:00 AM ET TEASE
HODA KOTB: Bolton bombshells. The first excerpts from the former national security advisor’s explosive memoir go public. President Trump accused of asking China to help him get re-elected and offering his own help to dictators. Overnight, the Justice Department seeking a new emergency order to block the book’s release. And the president weighing in.
DONALD TRUMP: He broke the law, very simple.
7:13 AM ET SEGMENT
CRAIG MELVIN: NBC News has explosive new details from that new book from President Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton. This as the Justice Department makes another emergency move trying to block its publication. NBC’s White House correspondent Peter Alexander has the overnight developments on this. Peter, good morning.
PETER ALEXANDER: Hey, Craig, good morning to you. This is a blistering book from John Bolton, once one of the president’s closest advisers. A long-time loyal Republican blasting President Trump as irrational and foolish, arguing that the president’s thinking is not grounded in philosophy or policy or any grand strategy, but it’s simply grounded in Trump.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Trump Responds to Bolton Bombshell; Former Top Adviser Says President Asked China for Reelection Help]
7:14 AM ET
ALEXANDER: In his new book, obtained by NBC News, Bolton delivers a scathing assessment of his own boss. Bolton says that the president is easily flattered by authoritarian leaders who try to manipulate him. Bolton described the president’s relationship with Vladimir Putin to ABC News:
JOHN BOLTON: I think Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle. I think Putin is smart, tough. I think he sees that he’s not faced with a serious adversary here. I don’t think he’s worried about Donald Trump.
ALEXANDER: Bolton writes that the president was willing to intervene in criminal investigations with foreign adversaries, like China and Turkey, as “personal favors to dictators he liked.” The president’s behavior on that front and on his personal legal issues stunned Bolton, who described it as “obstruction of justice as a way of life.” Bolton says he reported his concerns to Attorney General William Barr.
BOLTON: I think he was so focused on the re-election that longer term considerations fell by the
wayside. So if he thought he could get a photo opportunity with Kim Jong-un at the demilitarized zone in Korea, there was considerable emphasis on the photo opportunity and the press reaction to it, and little or no focus on what such meetings did for the bargaining position of the United States.
ALEXANDER: During negotiations with China’s President Xi, Bolton says President Trump asked the Chinese leader to buy American soybeans and wheat to boost his electoral prospects in farm states, “pleading with XI to ensure he’d win.”
Bolton says the president didn’t know Britain is a nuclear power and asked if Finland is part of Russia. And that during a meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo passed him note insulting President Trump, saying, “He is so full of (expletive).” The secretary of state has not commented on Bolton’s accusations. The attorney general’s office said that Bolton grossly mischaracterized his conversation with William Barr.
And overnight, the Trump administration asked the federal court for an immediate order for delay the release of Bolton’s book, arguing it contains classified information, something Bolton’s lawyer has repeatedly denied. But of course it may be too late because its most damning accusations, Craig, obviously are already out there.
Here is a transcript of the coverage on ABC’s GMA:
7:00 AM ET TEASE
MICHAEL STRAHAN: ABC News exclusive. The former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s first interview ahead of that bombshell book. His explosive accusations about President Trump.
JOHN BOLTON: I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the confidence to carry out the job.
STRAHAN: Calling him erratic, foolish, and stunningly uninformed.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Getting re-elected was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant endangering or weakening the nation?
STRAHAN: Bolton claiming the president asked China to help him win and that Congress missed investigating other impeachable offenses. The Trump administration now trying to block the book from being published as the president fires back at Bolton overnight.
7:03 AM ET SEGMENT
AMY ROBACH: Let’s get right to our ABC News exclusive with former National Security Advisor John Bolton ahead of that explosive new book where he presents a scathing portrait of President Trump.
STRAHAN: He calls the president incompetent and claims he possibly committed impeachable offenses far beyond what Congress investigated. Chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz sat down with Bolton for his first interview about the book, and it was explosive. Martha, good morning.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Good morning, Michael. This is a starkly candid accounting of Bolton’s 17 months in the White House. The famously hawkish former national security advisor now saying Trump should not be president.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Former National Security Adviser Takes on Trump; John Bolton Speaks Out in First Interview Ahead of Bombshell Book]
He was Donald Trump’s longest serving national security advisor, John Bolton, at President Trump’s side for some of our country’s most important national security decisions. And what Bolton saw left him deeply disturbed – a president who puts re-election above the country's interests, says Bolton. And makes decisions for personal gain, leading Bolton to a stunning conclusion.
You described the president as “erratic, foolish, behaved irrationally, bizarrely. You can’t leave him alone for a minute. He saw conspiracies behind rocks and was stunningly uninformed. He couldn’t tell the difference between his personal interests and the country's interests.”
BOLTON: I don’t think he’s fit for office.
RADDATZ: Bolton in his new book, out June 23rd, and in our interview, saying Trump viewed the negotiations with a nuclear-armed North Korea as theater, asking how many people would be covering the event and eager to present Kim Jong-un with a Trump autographed copy of Elton John’s Rocketman CD, the nickname that Trump had given Kim. Bolton saying that getting this CD to Kim remained a high priority for several months. Kim said Bolton not the only foreign leader with whom Trump was trying to make deals. Bolton says Trump asked China’s President XI to buy U.S. soybeans and wheat to help Trump with votes from farm states, “pleading with XI to ensure he’d win.” And Russia’s president, Bolton said Vladimir Putin couldn’t wait to get in a room alone with Donald Trump.
Here is a transcript of the coverage on CBS This Morning:
7:00 AM ET TEASE
GAYLE KING: Bolton bombshells. The former National Security Advisor accuses the President of seeking China's help with his re-election, doing favors for dictators, and obstruction as a way of life. The President's blunt response to Bolton's new book and how the Justice Department is getting involved.
7:04 AM ET SEGMENT
KING: We are talking about former National Security Advisor John Bolton's very startling claims in his new memoir. It’s about President Trump and the White House. CBS News has obtained a copy of The Room Where It Happened. That's the title. Bolton writes that the President tried to get China's president to help him win reelection. Bolton also said that the President engaged in a pattern of behavior that, quote, “looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life.” Tony?
TONY DOKOUPIL: And now the Justice Department is asking a federal judge for an emergency order to block the book's publication claiming it will damage national security. The book has already been shipped to booksellers, and it is due to go on sale Tuesday. Bolton's publisher, which happens to be Simon & Schuster, a division of Viacom CBS, calls the government lawsuit frivolous and politically motivated. Paula Reid is at the White House for us. Paula, good morning. What is the President saying about all this?
PAULA REID: Good morning, Tony. In an interview last night, the President dismissed Bolton as a liar. But these last-minute efforts by the administration to block the release of this book have not prevented it from landing in the hands of over half a dozen reporters. Now, Bolton refused to voluntarily participate in impeachment proceedings. But in this book he says the President should have been investigated for matters far beyond Ukraine. And he details multiple instances where he believes the President put his own interests ahead of the country's. In a nearly 600-page book obtained by CBS News, former National Security Adviser John Bolton provides a detailed criticism of the Trump administration from inside high-level meetings. He describes the president as “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed,” including one instance where Mr. Trump asked if Finland was part of Russia. In an interview with Fox News Wednesday night, the president had his own accusations against Bolton.
DONALD TRUMP: Terrible, terrible thing that he did. But he broke the law. Very simple. I mean, as much as it's going to be broken, this is highly classified.
REID: In a late-night tweet, the President called Bolton's book made up of lies and fake stories Describing the events that resulted in the impeachment inquiry, Bolton writes that “Mr. Trump wasn't in favor of sending Ukraine anything until all the Russia investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over.” And in another episode that bears striking similarities, Bolton recounts how the President asked China to buy a lot of American agricultural products to help him win farm states in 2020.
TRUMP: There's nobody ever been tough on China like I've been tough on China.
REID: In 2016, President Trump ran on a platform of being tough on China, but Bolton describes him pleading with Xi to ensure he'd win. Bolton argues these events should have been investigated by Congress and could have provided “a greater chance to persuade others that high crimes and misdemeanors had been perpetrated.” But Bolton refused to voluntarily participate in impeachment proceedings. Democrats call the new details stunning but saved their harshest criticism for Bolton.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Curious to me that now he has something to say when he could have stepped forward as a patriot when the stakes were high and the president was on trial. And he ran and hid in the other direction.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL: Thank you, John Bolton, for being the firefighter that shows up to the building that's already burned with the fire hose and saying "I'm here to help."
REID: Bolton offered to participate in the senate proceedings but only if subpoenaed. Senate Republicans blocked that option. Now some Republicans like Representative Gaetz are dismissing Bolton as a disgruntled employee who has an axe to grind. Anthony?