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Trump Told China To 'Go Ahead' With Prison Camps, Bolton Alleges In New Book

Former national security adviser John Bolton paints a critical portrait of President Trump in a new memoir set for publication soon.
Mark Humphrey
Former national security adviser John Bolton paints a critical portrait of President Trump in a new memoir set for publication soon.

Updated at 9:33 p.m. ET

President Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he endorsed Beijing's now-infamous archipelago of prison camps for minority Uighurs, John Bolton writes in his new memoir, The Room Where It Happened.

The former national security adviser quotes U.S. officials who took part in Trump's meetings with their Chinese counterparts.

"According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do," Bolton writes. Another official said something similar, "which meant we could cross repression of the Uighurs off our list of possible reasons to sanction China, at least as long as trade negotiations continued."

Trump generally has been silent in public about China's treatment of the mostly Muslim Uighurs, who are subject to an Orwellian program of surveillance and repression. Roughly 1 million people have been detained without trial, subjected to "reeducation" and other harsh treatment.

Trump's support for Xi's program is one of a number of revelatory allegations Bolton makes against Trump in the new memoir, one that details what the former national security adviser calls the president's transactional dealings with world leaders that went beyond those in the Ukraine affair, for which Trump was impeached.

Bolton was "astonished" by the cynicism and "chaos" he saw within the White House under Trump, he writes.

Trump also asked Xi to accommodate shifts in trade policy that the president believed would help his electoral fortunes in agricultural states, Bolton writes — and he suggests there are official accounts of those discussions that could back him up.

They don't appear in the book because of objections by the National Security Council over classification issues, Bolton writes.

U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer rejected Bolton's account Wednesday. "Absolutely untrue. Never happened. I was there," he said of that Xi meeting during a Senate Finance hearing. "I was at the meeting ... nothing like that happened ... Completely crazy."

The nature of allegations likely will spur calls from members of Congress for the White House to release the records in the way it did with official accounts of conversations in the Ukraine affair.

Bolton dueled for months with the National Security Council over the release of the book, which was first scheduled for publication earlier this year.

The White House has sought to stop or delay that over what it calls concerns about the classification of some material.

On Wednesday evening, the Justice Department filed a motion for an emergency restraining order against Bolton to block publication of his book. It requested a Friday hearing ahead of the book's scheduled release next Tuesday.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said the statement was part of his obligation to "protect the critical work of the Intelligence Community from any and all unauthorized disclosures."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany faulted Bolton earlier on Wednesday because she said he reveals classified information in his book.

"It's unacceptable. It has not gone through the review process, and that's where we currently stand," she said.

Bolton and publisher Simon & Schuster said they concluded negotiating the version of the text that was scheduled for release on June 23, and copies of the book have been distributed to reviewers and distributors, including NPR's Ron Elving. In a statement Wednesday, the publisher called the filing "a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility" that "would accomplish nothing."

Bipartisan lightning rod

Bolton has become a rare unifying figure in Washington, reviled both by Republicans and Democrats — but for different reasons.

Trump and the White House call him a disgruntled burnout and dismiss the allegations in the book as not credible because of Bolton's break with the president.

But Bolton's allegations create an uncomfortable situation for China hawks within the GOP who've often allied with Trump and called for Washington to hold a tougher line with Beijing and take the moral high ground over China's treatment of Uighurs. On Wednesday, Trump signed into law the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which the president says "holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labor, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other minorities in China."

Trump, according to Bolton, dismissed Chinese human rights abuses in its western Xinjiang province and in Hong Kong. He also downplayed the importance of U.S. obligations to Taiwan, Bolton writes.

"Although it came in several variations, one of Trump's favorite comparisons was to point to the tip of one of his Sharpie [marker's] and say, 'this is Taiwan,' then point to [his desk in the Oval Office] and say, 'this is China.' So much for American commitments and obligations to another democratic ally," Bolton writes.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee for president this year, excoriated Trump in a statement on Wednesday evening following the reports about Bolton's book.

"He was willing to trade away our most cherished democratic values for the empty promise of a flimsy trade deal that bailed him out of his disastrous tariff war that did so much damage to our farmers, manufacturers, and consumers," Biden said. "He thought that letting the president of China run the table on us in the long run would give him another term in the short run."

Criticism endures

Democrats were incensed that Bolton resisted taking part in impeachment proceedings last year and early this year. He and a key deputy could have told lawmakers what they knew on the record and under oath, Democrats said — but they sought a court ruling on the matter after the White House blocked their testimony.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Wednesday that Bolton's account proves that Democrats had done the right thing by pursuing impeachment.

"It was clear then and could not be any clearer now: The vote to convict and remove Donald Trump from office was absolutely the right vote," Schumer said.
"The revelations in Mr. Bolton's book make Senate Republicans' craven actions on impeachment look even worse — and history will judge them for it."

Ultimately, Republicans used their majority in the Senate during Trump's impeachment trial not to compel Bolton or other witnesses with subpoena, keeping his official evidence out of the record.

Trump supporters argued the underlying conduct in the Ukraine affair wasn't impeachable and that, in the case of Bolton, it wasn't the Senate's role to help develop evidence — only to assess it when sitting as a jury in judgment of Trump.

Other allies of the president said on Wednesday that anything Bolton says now is suspect because he is seeking to cash in with a big book advance, sales and publicity.

The Ukraine affair

Trump froze U.S. aid to Ukraine for a time while he wanted Ukrainian officials to announce an investigation into Biden and his family. Ultimately the aid was restored, and the Ukrainians never announced the investigation.

Biden was embarrassed by the attention the story placed on his son, Hunter, who was paid for a time by a Ukrainian company even as Biden was vice president and heading up Ukraine matters for then-President Barack Obama.

No laws were broken, investigators concluded, but Republicans in Congress say they intend to continue looking into the story over the coming year.

Bolton, according to others' accounts at the time this was being revealed, opposed Trump's strategy and said as much to Trump during his time as national security adviser. That aspect of the story is developed in Bolton's new book, from his perspective.

But Bolton never told Congress that story officially, and critics have lambasted him for only doing so now, with a book for sale, when the political moment in Washington has moved on to such a degree.

Bolton, according to a statement from the publisher, argues that House Democrats committed "malpractice" with their impeachment because what Bolton calls Trump's improper conduct went so far beyond the Ukraine affair.

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Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.