WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired national security adviser John Bolton, citing strong disagreements with the hawkish figure who has often been at odds with the president’s positions on Afghanistan, Syria and North Korea.
Trump announced Bolton’s ouster via Twitter saying he “informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” but Bolton offered a conflicting account minutes later, tweeting that he “offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let's talk about it tomorrow.’ ”
The timing of Trump’s announcement came as a surprise to some White House officials, where an hour before Trump’s tweet, the press office had announced that Bolton would appear alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for a joint afternoon news briefing.
Pompeo, asked at the briefing if he was blindsided by Bolton’s abrupt departure, said: “I’m never surprised, and I don’t mean that on just this issue.”
Bolton’s departure is the latest in a West Wing that has experienced record turnover. A veteran diplomat turned Fox News commentator, Bolton was the president’s third national security adviser since taking office. He will be replaced in the interim by his one-time deputy, Charlie Kupperman, said White House Spokesman Hogan Gidley. Trump on Twitter said he planned to name Bolton’s replacement “next week.”
“I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump said on Twitter.
In a two-sentence resignation letter, Bolton said he resigned “effective immediately” and thanked Trump “for having afforded me the opportunity to serve our country.”
Bolton’s departure comes days after Trump faced bipartisan criticism over his move to invite Taliban leaders for peace talks at Camp David just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Bolton reportedly urged Trump against making such a move, arguing that the administration could move ahead with plans to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan without engaging with the group on American soil. The president ultimately canceled the meeting on Saturday, citing the Taliban’s role in a recent car-bombing that killed an American service member, and has since declared talks with the group “dead.”
Pompeo, who has supported Trump’s efforts to engage Taliban leaders, acknowledged his differences with Bolton, telling reporters on Tuesday, “There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed, that's to be sure.”
“There were definitely places that Ambassador Bolton and I had different views about how we should proceed,” Pompeo said.
Bolton, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, had reportedly voiced opposition to Trump’s one-on-one talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and had expressed concerns over Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
Trump appointed Bolton to his post in April 2018, following the resignation of retired Army General H.R. McMaster. The president’s first pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, left his post weeks into the start of his tenure in 2017, amid increasing scrutiny over his contacts with Russia.
Bolton’s departure comes as the president prepares to meet with other world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan later this month. Pompeo on Tuesday said Trump remained open to the possibility of meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the gathering, amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
“He is prepared to meet with no preconditions,” Pompeo said.
On Capitol Hill, the president’s Republican allies praised Bolton’s ouster, while congressional Democrats cast the episode as a sign of unsteadiness at the White House.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) told reporters, “I, for one, think the chances of war go down greatly with John Bolton leaving the administration. The president deserves someone who understands his America first policy.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a statement said, “Today’s action by the president is just the latest example of his government-by-chaos approach and his rudderless national security policy.”
“When Ambassador Bolton’s extreme views aren’t enough for you, the United States is headed for even more chaotic times,” Schumer said.
National security advisers under President Trump
Michael T. Flynn — January 2017 to February 2017.
H.R. McMaster — February 2017 to April 2018.
John Bolton — April 2018 to September 2019.