The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir audiobook
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First, the elephant in the room where it happened. Yes, John Bolton admits in this book, that the New York Times reporting during the impeachment was true: Bolton did- back up the impeachment by leaking that Trump had withheld congressional funding from Ukraine in order to pressure them to lie and smear Joe Biden (and also to lie and say that Putin hadnt cheated for Trump to win in 2016.) He withheld tax payer dollars to try to cheat and win the 2020 election–definitely impeachable and disqualifying.
Unfortunately, leaked quotes to the New York Times did not sway Boltons fellow Republicans in the Senate in the way that his actual testimony (or even a press conference or sworn affidavit) could have.
Bolton, not lacking in self-regard, has no regrets about his decision not to testify. He even, near the end of this book, bizarrely, accuses the House Managers of committing impeachment malpractice by not making a broader case. (He chooses to forget that Trump ordered complete non-cooperation from federal employees and also forbade everyone from turning over any requested documents.)
It was only because of the testimonies of people far, far braver than John Boltonand some good lawyeringthat the Democrats were able to build a strong case against President Trump. (Bolton writes that they should have taken their timeapparently also forgetting that the impeachment was about Trump cheating to win (again) in 2020. Cheating to win an upcoming election wasnt the kind of danger to democracy that Democrats could pursue at their leisure.)
Fortunately, there were some public servants who were far braver than NSA Bolton, including his own subordinatesFiona Hill and Lt. Commander Alex Vindman. Unlike their boss, they risked their careers and saw their reputations falsely smeared, in order to do the right thing for their country. (In Vindmans case, Trump not only fired him in retaliation for responding to the subpoena, he also fired his twin brother, an NSC lawyer with no involvement at all in the impeachment.
I thought Bolton might have praised Vindman and Hill and the others who DID testify in spite of the risks. But, based on how he comes across in this 500+ page memoir, Bolton’s not apparently the self-reflective type, and so, he doesnt.
For those expecting a juicy, gossipy book, this really isn’t it. Most of the best quotes have already become public. (As has the president’s stunning ignorance. Bolton tells us Trump didn’t know that Finland is a country or that the UK is a nuclear power.) Much of this book is about Bolton doing his job as NSA. He writes a lot about his work–and makes it sound like work–the meetings he took with others, the policies he wanted to see in North Korea…Syria…Iran…China… Europe, etc. Honestly, a lot of this is very dull–and worse, if you don’t even like the policies.
Also, I didn’t find Bolton a very satisfying observer, maybe because of his political orientation. Time and again, he’s in an interesting situation, but doesn’t have much of interest to say about it. One example is that press conference between Putin and Trump in Helsinki, which was televised in full, following their one-on-one two hour meeting. Bolton leaves out the context of the two men’s answers–he shares Trump’s dislike of reporters–and his summaries of what was said is poor. As always, he shortchanges the importance of the Mueller investigation, including that just three days earlier Mueller indicted 13 Russians for their interference with the U.S. 2016 election. He does mention what a bombshell Trump’s expressed support for Putin over U.S. intel was, but doesn’t write about the event or followup in a very interesting way. (Maybe Dan Coats will write a memoir some day. Trump’s DNI almost resigned over Helsinki, per Bolton.) As with the rest of the book we really don’t get much sense of Donald Trump as a personality–what Bolton believes that the president is thinking and feeling, why he does what he does. (Again, if only the writer was a journalist or historian.)
Bolton clearly sees Putin as a U.S. adversary, and one who is in control of the Putin-Trump relationship. It surprised me that he didn’t see this as a greater threat to the U.S. because of Trump’s ongoing subservience to him, shown in Helsinki as other places. He -does- seem more alarmed by the realization that this as a pattern–how easily foreign autocrats and dictators, including Kim, Xi and Erdogan, find it to manipulate Donald Trump by appealing to his self-interest and his vanity.
(I -was- interested in the description of Putin as having two ways of interacting with others “either humiliating them or dominating them”. (Sound familiar?) But this is just an aside. There’s a blandness to much of Bolton’s narrative, a passivity that makes you want a journalist or historian “in the room” instead.)
Bolton’s narrative makes it clear that Trump doesn’t care one bit for human rights, democracy or the rule of law. He encourages Xi Jinping to build concentration camps to imprison China’s 1 million Uighurs. He only makes a statement about Saudi buddy Muhammed bin Salman’s role in the grisly murder of journalist–and American resident–Jamal Khashoggi–because he wants to distract reporters from Ivanka’s abuse of private email.
Trump’s betrayal of the Syrian Kurds’–for years acknowledged as such courageous and reliable U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS–marks another deplorable chapter in U.S. foreign policy. Trump’s heartless comments as he plans to abandon the Kurds–including their families and villages–to Turkish troops are too painful to repeat here. Bolton had left by the time the policy was finalized, but he obviously also didn’t care. To him, the fate of Syrian Kurds was simply, “all about Iran”. Mattis resigned over it, but Bolton never asks himself who would ever trust the United States again? Trump managed to turn his one foreign policy success in the Middle East into an abject failure.
It can be disconcerting when a writer’s personality and political viewpoint differ so strongly from one’s own. For example, Bolton describes a trip to NATO headquarters that sent Mattis, Kelly and himself into a panic. Trump–always eager to undermine NATO (coincidentally, also a top Putin goal)–was going to threaten to leave if Germany didn’t “pay what they owed”. Bolton says he “doesn’t know” if Trump actually was wrong–over and over–about the arrangement or just was short-handing the fact that it was about NATO countries funding their military defense, not money..
Well, you don’t need national security clearance to know that Trump absolutely doesn’t understand that NATO nations’ are talking about the amount they’re spending on their own defense, not something paid into a mutual “kitty” (they have one of those, too, but that’s never what Trump is badgering them about.) As usual, his target was Germany, whose leader–a woman–has emerged as the global leader of democracies, now that the U.S. has abdicated the role. Anyway, the meeting is tense, and eventually it ends without the U.S. withdrawing from yet another international agreement (Bolton, by the way, hates the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran Nuclear Deal. In this, he and Trump are quite simpatico.) There’s a large group at the end and Merkel extends her hand. Instead of shaking it, Trump bends down and kisses her on both cheeks, exclaiming, “I love Angela!” The onlookers, according to Bolton, applaud. He seems to feel this was a good moment. I felt embarrassed by my president and his team when reading it. (The Bush back rub wasn’t bad enough?)
Despite taking his book title from the hit musical “Hamilton”, Bolton does little to create scenes and make events and personalities come alive. Much of this book is dry and dull. Still, Bolton may deserve some- credit anyway for bringing it out before the election. (Its really not ALL about the $2 million from Simon & Schuster, right?) He has, after all, made himself widely disliked on both the right and the leftand also has antagonized the ever-vindictive president and his powerful lackeys, including the attorney general. Trump and Barr have already indicated that they will make sure that Bolton -does- pay a price for making Trump look so bad,
There’ve been a lot of unflattering quotes from this book–probably most of the interesting things are already out there. But he also appears to whitewash Trump’s personality and his lack of dexterity with the language. Bolton mentions how the president is unfocused and talks too much (including during his infrequent intelligence briefings). But he never tries to capture the rambling, repetitive, often disturbing quality of Trump’s unique style of verbal expression. Trump here, like everyone else, speaks in short, succinct phrases whenever directly quoted. In fact, everyone in direct quotes basically sounds the same. Did the publisher want quote marks in the text even though these are obviously NOT exact quotes?
Again, I want a journalist or historian “in the room” with Trump on these occasions. I want to know what was really said.
Bolton doesn’t represent Trump’s unique verbal style–or his well-known temper and tirades, He does, at times, remind you of how often he fires people–and how often they quit. Or, as in Bolton’s case, it’s both. Bolton quit and gave notice, only to have Trump jump the gun and announce that Bolton had been fired. It’s credible because we saw him do the same with SOD James Mattis.
In one of the most disturbing quotes, Bolton observes that “obstruction of justice as a way of life” for Trump. He warns that if he is re-elected, the “last guardrail” on the president–his obsession with being reelected–will be removed. At that point, Bolton–who sees in Trump an opportunist with no core principles or philosophy–could do anything that he felt benefited him personally. Given his warmth toward the world’s dictators and autocrats–Putin, Kim Jung Un, Saudi MBS, Turkey’s Erdogan, Xi–the potential for even greater corruption in a second term is huge. Even now, Bolton describes Trump promising Erdogan he will intervene in a case involving the Turkish bank and SDNY “as soon as I put my people in”. (Will he do the same for his major lender, Deutschebank? We don’t know how interconnected his personal interests are with the financial perks from the dictators of the world since he refuses to release his tax returns.).
Bolton worked for George W. Bush, GWH Bush, and Ronald Reagan. But his 17 months with Donald Trump convinced him that not only was Trump unlike any other U.S. president, he was unfit to hold the office. Unfit, yet with Trump’s 89% popularity with Republicans according to recent polls, and with the generally unwavering support from elected Republicans, it’s hard to know if Bolton’s intended audience will be reading this. Election Day is less than five months away. The question you’re left with is:: Will Bolton’s warning make any difference?
The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir audiobook streamming online
Politics and positions aside, this book is in desperate need of an editor for clarity and ease of reading. The amount of compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences is exhausting. It’s a wonky, clumsy read. If this were a textbook, I would be more forgiving. However, this is a book intended to inform the general public (regardless of your position or opinion of the information). Bolton is clearly an intelligent man but it doesn’t serve the public well if general readers can’t quickly absorb the information. Most readers are not going to work that hard to get through a book. Bolton would call that being “intellectually lazy.” I would call Bolton and his editors “intellectually lazy” for not making the book more accessible. It’s a shame given the subject matter. I believe it’s an important book to read but be aware that it’s a slog.
Audiobook The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John Bolton
I’m trying to read this now, but it is so poorly written it is hard to keep my mind on it. And, most of the book seems to be nothing more than an ego trip for the author, telling us how great he is, how much in demand he is, and how great his poor decisions were. The author is not someone anyone would want to read about, so, to be interesting, the book has to give us a well written account about how the president’s office functions, if it functions at all. The first chapter is not that.
Audio The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir narrated by John Bolton – epilogue Robert Petkoff
Like a moth to the flame, I’m drawn by a guilty pleasure to this book. Like his taxes or school grades, I have to see what is in this book to make our national disgrace work so hard to hide it from us. Bolton is also a national disgrace in not coming forward when it mattered, parlaying time and positioning to earn a not so small fortune on this book. Five stars for what he finally sells us, one star for Bolton’s character. Both Bolton and the flaw in the Oval office are traitors to our country. Both men contrived to avoid Vietnam. I’d say “A pox on both their houses” but in the current mishandled pandemic I can not wish that on anyone. History will bare their souls. Both of these men have put their own self interests before what is best for our counntry. Angst !
Free audio The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir – in the audio player below
Dry, bogged down in irrelevant details, an ego trip! Bolton saw himself as the only person, who could help the chaos of the Trump administration. If you want to read a “diary” full of ego stroking comments and a lot of ” look what I did, ” then this book is for you. If you’re a Democrat, you will read clearly how Bolton has zero respect for any. Explains why he refused to come forward with all of the corruption and treasonous things he witnessed. If you have a brain, you already know corruption and ineptness run the current administration.
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