President Donald Trump on Wednesday in the Oval Office.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday in the Oval Office. Credit: Getty Images/Alex Wong

He made 'very big mistakes'

After hearing some of the things President Donald Trump said about John Bolton Wednesday, it's more of a puzzle why he ever hired him as national security adviser than why he dumped him.

“You know, John’s known as a tough guy. He's so tough, he got us into Iraq. That’s tough,” Trump said sarcastically, alluding to Bolton's unrepentant championing of the 2003 invasion while part of the Bush administration. Yet Trump, who became a harsh critic of that war, knew that when he chose him.

Trump also hastened to point out during an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office that Bolton was "not necessarily tougher than me" and in some cases "he thought it was too tough, what we were doing." Trump didn't explain that further.

Trump did get specific about how Bolton rubbed some people the wrong way, including Kim Jong Un. He pointed to Bolton's comments in April 2018 about a "Libyan model" for North Korean denuclearization. As Trump noted, the remarks were unappreciated by Kim because Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown with NATO's help and assassinated eight years after giving up his nuclear weapons program.

"It set us back … What a disaster," said Trump. "He wanted nothing to do with John Bolton. And that's not a question of being tough. That’s a question of being not smart to say something like that.” In the year before Bolton came aboard, Trump himself threatened to nuke North Korea, but relations are calmer now, with Kim sending him "beautiful letters."

But Trump kept Bolton on for almost 17 more months, during which "he made some very big mistakes," including the failed effort to dislodge socialist strongman Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. "I disagreed with John Bolton on his attitudes on Venezuela. I thought he was way out of line. And I think I've proven to be right."

Aside from all that, there was the issue of not working well with others. Trump said he told Bolton Monday, "You're not getting along with people" and asked for his resignation. Bolton insists he quit voluntarily. Trump also said, "I wish John the best. We actually got along very well." Bolton, asked by The Wall Street Journal if he cared to respond to Trump's comments, said, “I’ll have my say in due course.”

Tali-BAM warning

Days after he would have hosted Afghanistan's Taliban terrorists for peace talks at Camp David, Trump spoke at 9/11 ceremonies at the Pentagon with a warning to the Islamic radicals who harbored al-Qaida.

“If, for any reason, they come back to our country, we will go wherever they are and use power the likes of which the United States has never used before, and I’m not even talking about nuclear power," Trump said without elaborating on what he meant.

The speech was solemn. The tweets he sent out earlier in the morning on the 18th anniversary of the attacks were less so. He slammed the "boneheads" at the Federal Reserve for not lowering interest rates "to ZERO, or less," denounced an ABC News/Washington Post poll that shows him trailing would-be Democratic rivals and complained that if wasn't for "Fake News," he'd be leading them all by 20 points.

Democrats by the numbers

That ABC/Post poll showed the top five Democratic contenders all ahead of Trump, with Joe Biden up by the widest margin, 15 points. But with the third Democratic debate looming Thursday night, Biden's front-runner status for the primaries looked more precarious in a CNN poll. He was preferred by 24% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, with Elizabeth Warren at 18% and Bernie Sanders at 17%.

Newsday's Emily Ngo notes the 8 p.m. debate on ABC will be the first in which the top three appear together. It's also a challenge for the second-tier candidates whose opportunities to break out are shrinking. On Thursday morning, check out Ngo's "5 things to watch."

Janison: Holding fire

"Don't look at me, look at Trump" is a short version of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's answer to why he's not letting legislation on universal background checks for gun sales on the Senate floor yet. But while McConnell is hinting at a lack of presidential leadership, he doesn't want to start a feud, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

So McConnell puts it this way: "I said a few weeks ago that if the President took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I would be happy to put it on the floor." And, "The administration is in the process of studying what they are prepared to support, if anything." The key word in both statements is "if."

Will "if" become "when"? On Wednesday, Sens. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said after a 40-minute telephone conversation with Trump that he was engaged and encouraging. But the president still didn't state support for their background check bill.

Smoking the e-cig makers

First lady Melania Trump lit a fire under the president to move swiftly against the e-cigarette industry as health authorities investigate hundreds of breathing illnesses reported in people who have used e-cigarettes and other vaping devices that are growingly popular with teens.

“I mean, she’s got a son — together — that is a beautiful, young man, and she feels very, very strongly about it," the president said, referring to 13-year-old Barron Trump. "We can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t have our youth be so affected,” he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration plans to ban e-cigarette flavors other than tobacco, which could help people trying to quit traditional cigarettes.

White House's whoa to NOAA

The high pressure on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to back Trump's mistaken warnings about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama originated with the president himself, The Washington Post reported.

That led White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to call Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who called NOAA's acting boss Neil Jacobs with instructions to issue a statement admonishing the National Weather Service's Birmingham office.

Trump denied issuing such an order. “I never did that. It’s a hoax by the media. That’s just fake news," he said.

House Democrats are investigating the Commerce Department’s involvement in NOAA siding with Trump over its scientists.

What else is happening:

  • Trump tweeted Wednesday night that he is delaying $250 billion in new tariffs on China from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15 “as a gesture of goodwill.” The announcement came after China exempted 16 American-made products from tariffs.
  • The Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to enforce a new rule that prevents most Central American immigrants from seeking asylum in the United States. A court case against the policy will continue.
  • Prosecutors with the Manhattan DA's office went to an upstate prison to interview Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen recently for their investigation of the Trump Organization's handling of hush-money payments, CNN reported.
  • There have been contradictory statements from House Democrats over whether they are conducting an impeachment investigation, an impeachment inquiry or a formal impeachment process. Newsday's Tom Brune said clarity may come Thursday when the Judiciary Committee votes on the procedures it will follow.
  • Among the Bolton aides following him out the door was William Happer, a National Security Council adviser who had been brought aboard as a skeptic of climate-change science, Bloomberg News reported. Happer once compared alarm over carbon dioxide levels to the “demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”
  • A New Jersey man is charged with causing $20,000 in damage to putting greens at Trump's Bedminster golf course by driving his car over them. The suspect, Rich McEwan, 26, of Milford, was arrested last month for allegedly breaking into a Rhode Island home owned by Taylor Swift.
  • A Chinese woman arrested in March for breaching security at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida has been found guilty on counts of lying to federal officers and illegally entering a restricted area. Yujing Zhang, 33, faces up to 6 years in prison.