Op-Ed: John Bolton Is No Hero. Don’t Buy His Book.

Grifters gonna grift, but we don’t have to help line their pockets.

Former national security adviser John Bolton on stage during a public discussion at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina on Feb. 17, 2020. Bolton refused to testify in the impeachment inquiry and President Trump was acquitted on Feb. 5. (Photo by LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images)
Former national security adviser John Bolton on stage during a public discussion at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina on Feb. 17, 2020. Bolton refused to testify in the impeachment inquiry and President Trump was acquitted on Feb. 5. (Photo by LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images)

John Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened,” a memoir about the former national security adviser’s time in the Trump White House, is already the #1 best-selling nonfiction book on Amazon for 2020. It ranked #1 based on pre-orders before it even came out on June 23.

If you’re thinking about spending $20 on Bolton’s book: don’t.

The man is not an anti-Trump hero, no matter how much he appears to paint himself as such in order to sell books. Bolton worked in the Trump White House from April 2018 to September 2019 and stepped down (or was forced out) at the height of the Trump-Ukraine scandal, just before the House initiated formal impeachment proceedings against him.

Here’s the thing: Bolton could have become a star witness in the impeachment hearings, testifying under oath about the extent of his knowledge of Trump’s many impeachable offenses.

But he refused.

And now, more than four months after the GOP-led Senate acquitted President Trump, Bolton has the gall to lay the blame on House Democrats for committing what he calls “impeachment malpractice.”

In his book, Bolton criticizes House Dems for limiting the scope of impeachment to the Ukraine scandal and not expanding the inquiry to investigate other abuses of power by Trump, such as the president’s attempt to also involve China in helping him win re-election. But it’s not House Democrats’ fault that Bolton didn’t offer such crucial information last fall and instead saved it for his book, for which he reportedly received a $2 million advance. The House called Bolton as a witness multiple times, offering him many opportunities to come forward.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the key impeachment managers who argued for charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power, has been particularly incensed by Bolton’s recent self-promotional tour. In an interview with NowThis on Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also urged people not to buy the book and instead focus on the Trump administration’s ongoing abuses of power and attempts to delegitimize the upcoming election

“John Bolton’s testimony may have led to other witnesses and an unraveling of the Trump defense,” Schiff said in an interview on MSNBC Monday

Aside from the unethical and threat-to-democracy implications of Bolton keeping his revelations secret for his own gain, his willingness to testify as a former member of Trump’s inner circle may have emboldened others to come forward—and could have materially changed the outcome of the Senate trial. The GOP majority in the Senate is loyal to Trump and may have acquitted him regardless of how many witnesses presented smoking guns (including the president himself), but Bolton’s transparency could have made their votes to acquit Trump even harder to defend.

We’ll never know how earlier revelations might have changed things, but we don’t have to help line the pockets of amoral grifters who put personal interests over national ones.

The information in Bolton’s book, for those interested, is already out there: in excerpts substantially quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, among others, as some journalists received copies of the book prior to publication. The full text has also been posted online.

Trump has tried to stop publication of the book several times, claiming there’s classified information in it. A court ruled against the president and allowed release of the book to move forward. Though in an interesting twist, the judge noted that the government may be successful in trying to seize any profits from the book with future rulings. Bolton’s $2 million advance may even be in jeopardy.

ABC News reported that “the Justice Department at a minimum is expected to seek to seize the profits from his book … and potentially pursue criminal charges under the Espionage Act for divulging classified information, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

So: Bolton’s already made money from the book deal. And if the Justice Department is successful, profits from sales could potentially make it to DOJ coffers as well—Bill Barr’s Justice Department, the same one that has provided cover for Trump to commit his many impeachable offenses.

It’s unfortunately a big circle where only corrupt officials seem to win, and American democracy loses. 

Maybe we should take a page from the book of Lin-Manuel Miranda—the composer of “Hamilton” whose song, “The Room Where It Happened,” inspired the name for Bolton’s memoir. He tweeted his thoughts on Bolton using lyrics from another song in the musical, along with a link to volunteer for the voting rights organization Fair Fight, founded by Stacey Abrams:

Bolton, who voted for Trump in 2016, has said this week he doesn't plan to vote for either Trump or Biden in the November election.

The least we can do is not reward those in power who have lied to or misled us, and focus our energy and resources instead on empowering those who actually uphold truth and accountability.