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Former National Security Adviser John Bolton Weighs In On U.S.-North Korea Relations


We're going to hear now from former Ambassador John Bolton. He has avoided interviews since President Trump fired him as national security adviser in September, and he's emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry's public hearings. House Democrats wanted him to testify, though they stopped short of issuing a subpoena. Ambassador Bolton spoke today with our colleague, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, who is on the line with us now.

Hi, Steve.


SHAPIRO: Why did Ambassador Bolton agree to talk now?

INSKEEP: He has made it clear through a tweet that he is dismayed with the Trump administration's approach to North Korea. President Trump, of course, has been trying to work out a nuclear deal with North Korea. So we called them up primarily to ask about that. And the former national security adviser, who disagreed with the president over North Korea even when he was in the government, said he was particularly disappointed that President Trump's administration is reported to have canceled a session on North Korea's human rights record at the United Nations recently to please Kim Jong Un. Bolton thought that was wrong.

He also critiqued the overall goal of the Trump administration policy. They're trying to get a nuclear deal. Bolton doesn't think it's ever going to happen. Let's listen.

JOHN BOLTON: I don't think North Korea will ever voluntarily give up nuclear weapons. It's been the pattern, as we've watched it for over three decades now. The North Koreans are very happy to declare that they're going to give up their nuclear weapons program, particularly when it's in exchange for tangible economic benefits, but they never get around to doing it.

INSKEEP: And so Bolton is indicating, essentially, that he believes proliferator, which is what he describes North Korea as, is just playing for time, that whatever happens, they're getting more time, and the more time passes, the better they improve their technology and the harder it is to stop them anyway.

SHAPIRO: So he sat down with you because he had points he wanted to make about North Korea, but you had some questions for him about impeachment as well.

INSKEEP: Yes. It's hard to avoid that topic because Bolton turns up in the impeachment testimony. There's testimony about him. There's a description of John Bolton talking about President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as a hand grenade that's going to blow everybody up. Of course, Giuliani was leading the president's effort to get investigations of Democrats in Ukraine. Investigators have heard about Bolton; they haven't heard from Bolton. And when we asked about this as well, he tried to duck it largely. Let's listen.

BOLTON: There's obviously a lot swirling around in that department, including some litigation that could affect my status. So I think although I have a lot to say on the subject, the prudent course for me is just to decline to comment at this point.

INSKEEP: The closest he came to commenting, Ari, had to do with the fact that some White House officials were subpoenaed by House investigators and some were not. And there's even a case where a subpoena was issued and then withdrawn, which suggests to John Bolton - he seems to imply in his answer that maybe Democrats aren't sure they would win a court case over whether every White House official should testify.

Of course, the White House has claimed privilege, that there's no need at all for close advisers to the president to be testifying before the House. And Bolton has been trying to leave that to the courts and, for now, at least, avoid talking to anyone.

SHAPIRO: Did he have anything more to say about workings at the White House, independent of impeachment? There has been so much scrutiny of that time.

INSKEEP: He was careful in this brief interview not to be directly critical of this, but he was very direct in his disagreement with the administration's approach to North Korea. This is a signature policy of President Trump, who has believed that he can coax Kim Jong Un of North Korea into giving up nuclear weapons. Bolton just doesn't think it's going to happen at all, and he clearly never did think so.

SHAPIRO: And we'll be hearing more of that conversation tomorrow on the program. You host Morning Edition. That is NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Thanks a lot, Steve.

INSKEEP: Glad to do it, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.