Monday, July 13, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, excerpt eight)

from The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John Bolton:

I told Trump about this North Korean eruption at about six thirty p.m., and he said our press line should be, “Whatever the situation is, is fine with me. If they would prefer to meet, I am ready. If they would prefer not to meet, that is okay with me too. I will fully understand.” I called again at seven o’clock and listened at length to Trump criticize the South Korean-US military exercise: he had been against it for a year, couldn’t understand why it cost so much and was so provocative, didn’t like flying B-52s from Guam to participate, and on and on and on. I couldn’t believe that the reason for these exercises—to be fully ready for a North Korean attack—hadn’t been explained before. If it had, it clearly hadn’t registered. Competent militaries exercise frequently. Especially in an alliance, joint training is critical so that the allied countries don’t cause problems for themselves in a time of crisis. “Fight tonight” was the slogan of US Forces Korea, reflecting its mission to deter and defeat aggression. A decrease in readiness could mean “fight next month,” which didn’t cut it. As I came to realize, however, Trump just didn’t want to hear about it. The exercises offended Kim Jong Un and were unnecessarily expensive. Case closed.

In the meantime, we were working on logistics for Singapore; on one critical point, Pompeo suggested that he, Kelly, and I be with Trump whenever he was around Kim, to which Kelly and I readily agreed. I also worried how cohesive we could be given the daily explosions everyone became inured to in the Trump White House. One such bizarre episode in mid-May involved disparaging remarks by Kelly Sadler, a White House communications staffer, about John McCain. Her comments, dismissing McCain and how he might vote on Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA Director because “he’s dying anyway,” leaked to the press, immediately creating a storm. Trump wanted to promote Sadler, while others wanted to fire her, or at least make her apologize publicly for her insensitivity. Sadler refused and got away with it because Trump, who despised McCain, allowed her to. Sadler turned her own insensitivity into a weapon by accusing others of leaking, a frequent offensive tactic in the Trump White House. In an Oval Office meeting, Trump rewarded her with a hug and kiss. Although this debacle was hardly my issue, I went to see Kelly at one point, figuring that surely rational people could get an apology out of this insubordinate staffer. After a brief discussion, with just the two of us in his office, Kelly said, “You can’t imagine how desperate I am to get out of here. This is a bad place to work, as you will find out.” He was the first to see Trump in the morning and the last to see him at night, and I could only conjecture how many mistakes he had prevented during his tenure. Kelly attacked the press, fully justifiably in my view, and said, “They’re coming for you, too,” which I didn’t doubt.

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