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John Bolton's Book 'The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,' Reviewed


Last night, the Justice Department filed suit to try to prevent the publication of former national security adviser John Bolton's book. This afternoon, the contents of that book began leaking to the public. NPR's Ron Elving is one of the people who has already read the Bolton book. It's titled "The Room Where It Happened." And before Ron joins us to talk about what is in the book, we should note the White House says it contains classified information and says the review process to protect that classified information has not been completed.

All right, with that, hello, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So you have read this book in order to review it. It contains Bolton's account of the Ukraine affair, in which the president seemed to condition military aid to Ukraine in return for a political investigation of the Bidens. And John Bolton was on that infamous July 25 phone call. How does he remember it?

ELVING: He remembers it as no big deal, Mary Louise, because he regarded, at that point, this quid pro quo of military assistance that had already been appropriated by Congress being released to Ukraine in return for this investigation that the president wanted to have announced into the Bidens. He regarded that as, quote, "baked in." It was already his understanding of what was going on with that aid.

Now, he was opposed to it very much. And he also regarded it as being, as he called it, "Ukraine fantasies, conspiracy theories," unquote. And he also refers to it as, quote, "Giuliani fantasies," because he's referencing there Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, who, of course, is the former New York City mayor and who had been, if you will, pedaling those theories about Ukraine and - well, this fits into that whole story with the DNC server in 2016 and what Ukraine may have done to try to torpedo Donald Trump then and might be doing to torpedo him in 2020. That was something apparently the president believed.

KELLY: Let's stay with Ukraine for a second because the president was impeached over the Ukraine episode, though not removed. Bolton's critics say he should have testified under oath and shared what he knows. He did not. He does talk about the impeachment process in the book. What does he say?

ELVING: He says that the House of Representatives was guilty of impeachment malpractice - that's his phrase - because they focused on that telephone call of July 25 when it was, quote, "not the only transgression," unquote, and when, in fact, Donald Trump was at least on the brink of practicing obstruction of justice in a number of other cases as well that he also goes off into.

But the main thing he wants to say here is that he couldn't testify in the fall because he had a directive from the president, from the White House not to do so. And that needed to be tested in the courts through a subpoena. And the House did not subpoena him because they didn't want to wait for the courts for months and months and months. So they moved on and talked to members of his staff, such as Fiona Hill, who did a very good job of representing John Bolton's views on all of this. But he himself did not testify in the House but said he would in the Senate. And then they never called him because they didn't call any witnesses at all in the Senate.

KELLY: It's worth remembering John Bolton joined this administration as a supporter of President Trump's foreign policy goals. What is his take on how the president actually conducted foreign policy during his time in the White House?

ELVING: He joined because he is a hardliner, and he thought he saw in Donald Trump the potential for another hardliner making American foreign policy. In fact, John Bolton, in some respects, from his time at the United Nations and other roles in the foreign policy establishment, is pretty much the definitional hardliner in American foreign policy. And he was very disappointed in Donald Trump. He makes a point of many times telling us the desk in the Oval Office is called the resolute desk. And he says again and again he couldn't help but notice the contrast between the desk and the man who sat behind it. He feels that Trump did not remain steadfast with respect to many different foreign policy lines that John Bolton favored.

KELLY: All right, a little preview of the review there.

Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Mary Louise.


And one more twist to that story tonight - the Department of Justice asked a judge for an emergency restraining order to block the book's publication, which is scheduled for June 23. Simon & Schuster, the publisher, calls the move, quote, "a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for