Transcript: John Bolton on "Face the Nation," July 5, 2020

Bolton: "One day the president will learn a little history"
Bolton: "One day the president will learn a l... 07:31

The following is a transcript of an interview with former national security adviser John Bolton that aired Sunday, July 5, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to former national security adviser John Bolton. He has a new book out. You might have heard about it about his time in the administration called "The Room Where It Happened." Good morning to you, Ambassador.

FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR JOHN BOLTON: Good morning, glad to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Glad to have you back on FACE THE NATION. I want to talk about a number of topics with you, but you in your book lay out a number of incidents in which you came to the point of potentially resigning, but you stuck with it for about 17 months. The president, however, continues to refer back to one specific incident on this program with you as the reason for your relationship going south. It was a comment about North Korea. I want to play it.

(BEGIN CLIP) 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it a requirement that Kim Jong un agree to give away those weapons before you give any kind of concession?

BOLTON: I think that's right. I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004.

(END CLIP) 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president told Fox News, "that was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen on television." Was it that moment that ruined your relationship?

BOLTON: Well, well, who knows, I guess the president's discontent with me ought to have him asking who hired that guy to begin with? Maybe he's the one who needs to be fired. You know, I don't think I could be clearer in talking about the Libya model of 2003, 2004. We had a clear strategic decision from Muammar Gaddafi to give up Libya's nuclear weapons program. We have never gotten that from North Korea. So the fact that seven or eight years later, in the midst of the Arab Spring, Gaddafi was overthrown--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

BOLTON: --nobody predicted in 2003, 2004. I'll stand by my comment. One day the president will learn a little history and he'd be better off for it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does the president and his thinking get more shaped by television or government advisers?

BOLTON: Well, I think it's a combination of television and listening to people outside the government that- that he trusts for one reason or another. I think that if you could clock the amount of time he spent actually in the Oval Office versus the amount of time he spends in the little dining room off the Oval Office with the cable news networks of one form or another on, it would be a very interesting statistic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to move on to some issues on the national security front. You're not in government anymore, but I know you watch Iran closely. There have been at least three mysterious explosions in the past few days, specifically one at the Natanz nuclear site. Does this look like U.S. or Israeli sabotage to you?

BOLTON: Well, it- nobody's claiming credit for it except the dissident group inside Iran. The Iranian government itself is trying not to comment on it. The Israeli government is not commenting. It's not clear--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly. 

BOLTON: --whether this is the precursor of a larger attack or not. But if somebody is beginning the process of taking down Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program, I say more power to them. And if they have some spare time, maybe they could try the same on North Korea.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we'll see what we hear from government officials. The Israelis are not confirming, as- as you mentioned there. On Afghanistan and Russia, as you know, the current national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, has acknowledged that the U.S. did indeed have intelligence that Russia was paying bounties for American dead. But he said that information was withheld by a CIA officer from the president, even though it was in the brief. Were you ever aware of bounties when you were national security adviser? 

BOLTON: Well, I'm not going to comment on what I knew or didn't know out of the intelligence, but I do think it's important for people to understand. Intelligence doesn't come in only two qualities, the fully verified intelligence and then the unverified intelligence. All intelligence is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to narrow in on this because this morning, I just want to make sure, you know, this morning Susan Rice, the national security adviser to President Obama went on television on another network and said the information came to light in 2019 when you were in the job, and she believed you would have told the president. Is she wrong? Did you know about that?

BOLTON: Well, I've said in countless other interviews, I'm not going to disclose classified information. I've got the struggle with the president trying to repress my book on that score already. I will say this. All intelligence is distributed along the spectrum of uncertainty. And this intelligence in 2020, by the administration's own admission, was deemed credible enough to give to our allies. So the notion that you only give the really completely 100 percent verified intelligence to the president would mean you give him almost nothing. And that's just not the way the system works. And it's certainly not a decision made only by the briefer who briefs the president twice a week. That's a decision that at least when I was there, would have been made by the director of national intelligence, the director of the CIA, myself and the briefer together.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Well, I mean, this information that Russia was providing weapons and money to the Taliban was made public in 2018 by the then Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. So you may have known about it when you were in that job. I'm wondering if you are in your remarks today, sort of politely saying that the current national security adviser failed in his job.

BOLTON: Look, I'm- I'm not going- I don't want to make this a matter of personalities, and by the way, what was made public in 2018 was Russian assistance to the Taliban, and that's been known for some time. That alone is troubling. What is particularly troubling, if true, is this latest information that they were killing- they were providing compensation for killing Americans. And that is the kind of thing that- that you go to the president on and say, look, this president heads u, we may not know everything on this, but a nuclear power is reportedly providing bounties to kill Americans. That's the kind of thing you need to have in the president's view so that he can think about it as he develops- well, at least as normal presidents develop strategy to handle Russia, to handle Afghanistan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. Before I let you go, I want to ask you, you in your book were very critical of some of your fellow cabinet members. Nikki Haley, you really unloaded on her. You called her untethered, a free electron. You mention her going on this program and saying things she shouldn't have said about Russia. You seem to have a pretty low regard for someone who's viewed as having a bright future within the Republican Party. Why did you do that?

BOLTON: Well, she wrote about this- the- the conversation on your show in her book, and it was inaccurate. And I just felt that it was important to get the record straight. I really wrote this book in large measure for history. Other people will write their books and scholars in the future will- will- will sort it out. I wrote as best I could recollect what I saw and I thought that was important-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. 

BOLTON: --when somebody actually gets the title of their book out of the incident and the facts are wrong.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador Bolton, always interesting to talk to you. We will leave it there. And we'll be right back with a look at some good economic news this week.