Bolton Fired as National Security Adviser. Who's Next?
Trump's third NSA is let go after being sidelined at major international events.
This story has been updated.
President Trump announced the abrupt dismissal of his third national security advisor, John Bolton, the latest scalp in a presidency marked by the high-profile firings and resignations of most of its senior national security leaders.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Bolton was scheduled to participate in a press briefing at the White House. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning.”
Bolton, a veteran bureaucratic infighter from the George W. Bush administration, almost immediately disputed the circumstances of his dismissal on Twitter.
“I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let's talk about it tomorrow,’” he wrote.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said later in the afternoon that Charles Kupperman, the deputy national security adviser, would serve as acting national security adviser, NBC News' Peter Alexander reported.
Rumors that Bolton was on the way out have circulated in Washington for months. Although Bolton and Trump shared a disdain for multilateralism, the hawkish adviser often clashed with his boss’ noninterventionalist instincts. The president has publicly alluded to his differing opinions with Bolton, but has stopped short of expressing exasperation in public. He has reportedly joked behind-the-scenes about Bolton’s hawkishness that “John has never seen a war he doesn't like.”
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Bolton has been publicly sidelined during a number of key foreign policy and national security initiatives, including peace negotiations with the Taliban that Trump called off on Saturday. Before that break, negotiators had reached a deal “in principle” that Bolton, who was opposed the deal, was reportedly allowed to view but not take home. In June, he was dispatched to Mongolia while Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, stepping foot into North Korean territory.
As national security adviser, Bolton presided over a National Security Council process that critics derided as closed-loop and insular, preventing rather than facilitating cross-agency information sharing and decision making.
He left a clear mark on Trump foreign policy, at least in the early days of his tenure. He spearheaded a hardline “maximum pressure” policy against Iran that began with the U.S. withdrawal from the so-called Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. He pushed the United States into recognizing an opposition lawmaker as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, and, in what Bolton may consider his most important achievement, saw the International Criminal Court decline to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan by the U.S. and its allies in the early days of the War on Terror. (Bolton has long loathed the ICC and called the victory his “second happiest day,” after his “happiest day” of “unsigning” the statute that created the organization in 2002.)
But over the summer, Bolton’s influence has appeared to wane — particularly in contrast to that of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, adept at staying on Trump’s good side. The president has reportedly been frustrated that Venezuela’s autocratic leader, Nicholas Maduro, did not step down as quickly as expected under pressure from the United States; and he was concerned that Bolton was leading him into a war with Iran.
Trump has now dismissed or accepted the resignations of three national security advisors, including Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster. The first three years of his presidency have also seen the departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan, FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump said that he will name a new national security advisor “next week.” (The president is known to publicly schedule personnel announcements only to allow the deadline to lapse.)
“I thank John very much for his service,” he tweeted.