Bolton Book Shows Trump Eager to Help Autocrats in US Courts

June 19, 2020by Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News (TNS)
US President Donald Trump (R) walks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a break in talks at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on Feb. 28, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump repeatedly sought to interfere in the U.S. judicial system to curry favor with leaders from Turkey to China, according to a new book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

At a Group of 20 meeting in 2018, Trump told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he thought a key Turkish bank facing a Justice Department indictment “was totally innocent of violating U.S. Iran sanctions” and vowed to “take care of things,” according to Bolton.

The book, which the White House has dismissed as “lies” and sought to block from going on sale next week, also describes how willing the president was to try to use a U.S. prosecution and fines against a Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE Corp., as a bargaining chip in trade talks. A copy of Bolton’s book, titled “The Room Where It Happened,” was obtained by Bloomberg News.

The details offer new evidence of Trump’s apparent willingness to inject his personal political priorities into U.S. legal cases to win favors or impress leaders at odds with the U.S. The president was impeached by the House last year for trying to withhold congressionally mandated aid to Ukraine to get that country’s government to pursue an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s family. Trump was acquitted in the Senate.

In repeated phone calls and meetings, Bolton says Trump asked aides including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, his acting attorney general and other top aides to get senior Justice Department officials involved in the case against the Turkish bank, known as Halkbank. The financial institution was accused of being engaged in a massive scheme to evade sanctions on Iran.

“Trump asked whether we could reach acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker, which I sidestepped,” Bolton writes about the case, which was being prosecuted by federal officials in New York. “Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people.”

Bolton describes numerous other meetings and phone calls where Erdogan brought up the Halkbank case. He describes Trump as largely uninterested in the case and instead focused on securing the release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor held in Turkey at the time.

The U.S. later brought a criminal case against Halkbank, shortly after Turkey invaded Syria against the Trump administration’s warnings to stay out of the conflict.

In the ZTE case, after the administration announced a seven-year ban on U.S. exports to the company, effectively shutting down its operations worldwide, Trump reversed course and allowed the company to stay in business after paying a relatively modest fine of about $1.2 billion.

In a passage that Bolton’s many critics in Washington will see as rich in irony, the former national security adviser says congressional Democrats pursuing impeachment charges against Trump would have had a better chance of finding “high crimes and misdemeanors” if they’d focused on those cases and not just Ukraine.

Bolton declined to testify to House investigators last year without a subpoena, a process that could have held up proceedings indefinitely. When the impeachment case was sent to the Senate, the Republican majority prevented him from being called as a witness.

In the book, Bolton describes how he grew so concerned about Trump’s apparent willingness to disregard the U.S. legal system that he felt compelled to raise the issue with Attorney General William Barr.

“Specifically, however, I also wanted to brief him on Trump’s penchant to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked, such as the criminal cases of Halkbank, ZTE, potentially Huawei, and who knew what else,” Bolton writes. “Barr said he was very worried about the appearances Trump was creating, especially his remarks on Halkbank to Erdogan in Buenos Aires at the G-20 meeting.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on the allegations surrounding Halkbank, some details of which Bloomberg News reported last October. Pressed for a response, department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec highlighted a statement from January, after parts of Bolton’s manuscript were first reported by The New York Times, saying that his account of the conversation with Barr “grossly mischaracterizes” what they talked about.

“There was no discussion of ‘personal favors’ or ‘undue influence’ on investigations, nor did Attorney General Barr state that the president’s conversations with foreign leaders was improper,” the statement said.

Trump has also denied any impropriety in the ZTE case. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Thursday, he said Bolton wasn’t around for the ZTE action.

“ZTE was my deal,” Trump told the Journal. “I put the fine on them. And I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I essentially closed them up. That was me.”

———

©2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Foreign Affairs

Supreme Court Upholds Prostitution Pledge for AIDS Funding
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Upholds Prostitution Pledge for AIDS Funding
June 29, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court upheld a provision of federal law Monday that requires foreign affiliates of U.S.-based health organizations to denounce prostitution as a condition of receiving taxpayer money to fight AIDS around the world.  Writing for the majority in the 5-3 ruling, Justice Brett... Read More

US-UK Free Trade Agreement Stalled Over Ag Disputes
Trade
US-UK Free Trade Agreement Stalled Over Ag Disputes
June 22, 2020
by Sara Wilkerson

Trade agreement talks between the United States and the United Kingdom have been tabled for the foreseeable future over a disagreement concerning agricultural practices. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer revealed the impasse during testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee last week. Lighthizer, who spent... Read More

Bolton Book Shows Trump Eager to Help Autocrats in US Courts
Foreign Affairs
Bolton Book Shows Trump Eager to Help Autocrats in US Courts

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump repeatedly sought to interfere in the U.S. judicial system to curry favor with leaders from Turkey to China, according to a new book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton. At a Group of 20 meeting in 2018, Trump told President... Read More

Bolton Book Says Trump Sought Xi’s 2020 Help, Roiling Race Anew
Political News
Bolton Book Says Trump Sought Xi’s 2020 Help, Roiling Race Anew

WASHINGTON — Former national security adviser John Bolton writes in a new book that President Donald Trump asked Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help him win reelection by buying more U.S. farm products, according to an excerpt published by The Wall Street Journal. The disclosure is... Read More

Report Suggests Pandemic Underscored Importance of Sustainable Fisheries Management
Environment
Report Suggests Pandemic Underscored Importance of Sustainable Fisheries Management
June 11, 2020
by Jacob Pederson

Global demand for fish has reached an all-time high despite the economic and supply challenges posed by COVID-19.  This year, the world consumed enough fish for every man, woman, and child on the planet to have about 45 pounds each. At over 197 million tons total,... Read More

Lawmakers Ejected in Hong Kong Debate on Chinese Anthem Bill
Foreign Affairs
Lawmakers Ejected in Hong Kong Debate on Chinese Anthem Bill

HONG KONG (AP) — Three pro-democracy lawmakers were ejected from Hong Kong's legislative chamber Thursday morning, disrupting the second day of debate on a contentious bill that would criminalize insulting or abusing the Chinese national anthem. The legislature’s president, Andrew Leung, suspended the meeting minutes after... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top