President Donald Trump ousted national security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday, saying he and the hawkish aide had "disagreed strongly" on many issues and suggesting that Bolton had collided with other Trump advisers, too.
The decision came after widespread reports that Bolton tried to stop Trump from inviting leaders of the Afghan Taliban to Camp David for peace talks. Trump ultimately scrapped the idea, but multiple people familiar with the issue said the news reports about Bolton’s dissent — believed to have been planted by Bolton aides — infuriated Trump.
Bolton’s ouster leaves yet another vacancy in the upper echelons of the Trump administration, where many roles are either unfilled or filled on an acting basis, including several that deal with national security issues. It also means Trump could hear fewer dissenting voices on major moves he wants to make on the national security front, such as talking to the leaders of Iran.
The president himself didn’t get too specific in his tweets announcing Bolton’s departure, though he indicated it was not a spur of the moment move.
"I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House," Trump wrote. "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. I thank John very much for his service."
Bolton offered a conflicting account on Twitter minutes after Trump's posts. "I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, 'Let's talk about it tomorrow,'" he wrote online. Bolton did not respond to a request for comment.
The news caught many in the administration off guard. Shortly before Trump’s tweets, the White House had announced that Bolton would appear at a briefing later Tuesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The two Cabinet secretaries, both of whom had their own frustrations with Bolton, appeared together, and in good spirits.
I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, "Let's talk about it tomorrow."
People familiar with the issue said Trump grew frustrated over time with news stories about divisions in the administration that he was convinced were peddled by Bolton and his media surrogates.
Over the weekend, as reports in The New York Times and other outlets laid out the back-and-forth within the administration over whether to invite the Taliban to Camp David, Trump — as well as other officials like Pompeo — grew upset at what they were sure were leaks from Bolton and his aides.
“When the New York Times story came out, it was pretty clear that Bolton or his people had his fingerprints all over it, that it wasn’t his idea to meet with the Taliban, that it was Pompeo’s. That was the end of business. It was petty and stupid,” said a Trump confidante familiar with the president's thinking.
A second person confirmed that explanation, saying that it was part of a pattern of leaks believed to have come from Bolton’s camp that highlighted dissent in the president’s inner circle.
"The fundamental problem here is the president had a national security adviser who was unwilling to accept the decisions made by the president," this person said. "When they contradicted his opinion, he worked to undermine them."
"It’s safe to say that the entire administration that is on the national security team has talked to the president about their frustrations," the person added.
On Monday night, Bolton and Trump met in the Oval Office before the president took off for a rally in North Carolina, according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
It was at that meeting that Trump asked for Bolton's resignation, she said. Asked whether the tenor of the conversation was negative, Grisham replied: "I mean, he was asked for his resignation..."
Bolton's resignation letter, dated Tuesday, was terse: "I hereby resign, effective immediately, as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. Thank you for having afforded me this opportunity to serve our country."
Some administration officials appeared pleased when they appeared Tuesday afternoon. When Pompeo was asked whether he was blindsided, he quipped, "I'm never surprised," and broke into a grin.