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Transcript: John Bolton on "Face the Nation," April 2, 2023

Bolton on GOP allying with Trump
Bolton says it's a "big mistake, politically" for Republicans to align with Trump 08:00

The following is a transcript of an interview with John Bolton, former Trump administration national security adviser, that aired on "Face the Nation" on April 2, 2023.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to John Bolton, who served as national security adviser under former President Trump. Good to have you here. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: So as we were just discussing, Republicans seemed to be avoiding explicitly defending Mr. Trump's actions and instead attacking the district attorney of Manhattan. But we don't know the details of these charges. We won't until Tuesday. If- if then don't you see there being a danger for Republicans to do that because they are still aligning themselves with the former president, who I know you are sharply critical of?

AMB. BOLTON: Yeah, I think it's a big mistake politically for Republicans to do that. And I think it's important to stress that in this case that involves hush- hush money to a porn star to cover up an affair that later involves cooking his company's books, you have not heard a single Trump defender stand up and say, oh, that's not the Donald Trump I know. And it goes to the question of character and fitness for the presidency. I think that Trump's obviously trying to attack the prosecutor and his supporters are following that. Look, prosecutors have broad discretion and they should, but they don't have unlimited discretion. If Trump thinks there's prosecutorial misconduct here, violating the laws, violating the prosecutor or lawyer's ethical obligations, he has plenty of opportunities to raise that. But if he can't show that Alvin Bragg has violated the law or violated the ethics rules that are applicable, then he's got to run his own chances. And to my mind, there is a kind of rough justice here, because it's deeply ironic that a person who spent a good part of his four years in the White House trying to weaponize the Justice Department against his political enemies is now saying he's the victim of persecution. It's sort of what comes around goes around, Mr. Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you agree that the Justice Department was weaponized under the Trump administration?

JOHN BOLTON: I can attest to it personally. I don't need to look at other stories.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean by that?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, when Trump and his lawyers in the White House and in the Justice Department brought both a civil and a criminal case against me--

MARGARET BRENNAN: For your book. 

AMB. BOLTON: --for publishing a book that didn't go through the prepublication review process, when they know that it had been cleared in the regular order that- that is abusing the Justice Department. And there are plenty of other examples besides. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you brought up your book. In it, you talk about President Trump being obsessed with media coverage of his former attorney, Michael Cohen, who's now very much at the heart of this trial case, who was on trial himself. And you said it was a big distraction in the midst of the trip to Hanoi where the former president was negotiating with Kim Jong Un. I mean, nuclear security. But he was obsessed with the Cohen case. Do you look at that differently now? Do you think there was a real reason for him to be worried or was it just a PR concern?

AMB. BOLTON: Well, I think- I think he does have reason to be concerned about the substance of the case here. And I think while we're all obviously and appropriately focused on the indictment, that's just the beginning. The real issue here is whether Alvin Bragg gets a conviction--


AMB. BOLTON:  --at some point in the near term or whether Trump springs free because the political implications are vastly different.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I mean, the timetable for this goes right into 2024. And we don't have clarity on that. 

AMB. BOLTON: Well, we'll see whether Trump runs the courtroom or whether the judge runs the courtroom.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean?

AMB. BOLTON: Well, I have no doubt a lot of trees are going to die to support the motions--


AMB. BOLTON: --to dismiss the case that Trump's going to file. So if the judge keeps the pace going, you know, people talk about the importance of speedy trial. Let's see if we can get one here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you said it was a mistake for Republicans in messaging around this, but even Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, who I know in the past you said good things about, came out and said, oh it's a misdemeanor. Oh, this is political. A misdemeanor's still a crime. But I mean, the only Republican of prominence that has really remained silent, that I've noticed is Mitch McConnell. Most everyone's defending in some way.

AMB. BOLTON: Well I think- I think Asa Hutchinson said earlier today--


AMB. BOLTON: In addition to announcing he's running for the- for the presidency, that Trump should stand aside--


AMB. BOLTON: And I think that's an absolute minimum. Look, Trump is basically extorting-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's two, plus you, that's three.

AMB. BOLTON: That- Trump is basically extorting the Republican Party. He's threatening that if he doesn't get the nomination, he'll blow up the presidential campaign, and whoever the Democrats nominate will win. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And it seems to be persuasive. 

AMB. BOLTON: Well, I think what Republicans need to do to save the party and frankly, to save the country, is they can be as concerned about poor Donald Trump being mistreated by this prosecutor as they want. But they- the reward, the cure for that mistreatment is not to make Donald Trump the Republican presidential nominee. Those are two completely different subjects.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand your point. You have said in the past, if this indictment happens, it's rocket fuel to his campaign to get the Republican nomination for the president. And you think that's what Democrats want, essentially, because it benefits whoever the Democratic nominee is, presumably the current president.

AMB. BOLTON: I'm not worried about Alvin Bragg hurting Donald Trump. I'm worried about Alvin Bragg benefiting Donald Trump. And this is where I think the outcome of the case is so important. If Trump is acquitted or he gets the case dismissed because it's not legally sufficient or for whatever reason, that will be rocket fuel, because he can say, I told you it was a political prosecution, I told you I was being picked on, and now I've been vindicated. If he's convicted, however, at some point before the campaign ends, I think that will have a very different impact on people. You can- you can say it's a sleazy case and it  involves sleazy people. But if he's convicted of a crime, I think most Americans actually don't want a convicted felon to be their president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So if he does end up being the nominee, will you support him as the Republican nominee?

AMB. BOLTON: Absolutely not. I didn't support him in 2020. I wanted to vote for a real conservative. And neither- there was neither the Republican nor the Democratic nominee were real conservative. So I wrote in a name and I would do the same.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you have said you might be considering a run. Have you ruled that out or are you still considering?

AMB. BOLTON: No, I'm still considering it. I have to say, watching the response to the indictment has not been encouraging for the future of the party. Trump is a cancer on the Republican Party. We need his supporters. That's absolutely true. Most of them have correct values. The distortion is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does it disappoint you-- 

AMB. BOLTON: --the magnetic field of Donald Trump. 

MARGARET BRENNNAN: Well, does it disappoint you that someone you have in the past said good things about Ron DeSantis is part part of the group circling the wagons around Mr. Trump?

AMB. BOLTON: Well, I believe in redemption for everybody. So I think there's still a way ahead here. But I tell you what, what the- what the people really want in the nominee, I think, is somebody who will say this conduct is unacceptable to us. And we have higher values. We have higher principles than simply defending whatever Donald Trump does.

MARGARET BRENNNAN: So you're willing to forgive that of DeSantis. You also, however, have to be upset with his foreign policy positions. He said, well, the US has many vital national interests, becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them. He tried to soften that a little bit afterwards, but it reveals kind of this thread we've seen reflected in some House Republicans of more of an isolationist, or at least, less likely to be as muscular.

AMB. BOLTON: Well, as I said before, I was disappointed that Ron DeSantis said that. I'm hoping that his view is changing. But I think this isolationism, I attribute a large part of it to Donald Trump. Not that he has any coherent philosophy, but his knee jerk reaction drives people to take positions that I think they otherwise wouldn't take. I think you go back to a Reaganite foreign policy and a Reaganite optimism that it's morning in America. In fact, it's always morning in America. It's not Donald Trump's version. It's Ronald Reagan's that will get people's support.

MARGARET BRENNNAN: John Bolton, thank you for your time today. Thank you. Back in a moment.

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