One of Trump’s closest White House advisers admits that ‘it’s hard to describe how little he knows’

The disgraced former president’s top national security adviser has been doing a slew of interviews the past few weeks. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, John Bolton, like most former national security advisers, has found himself being asked for his opinion on rapidly changing events. John Bolton’s bona fides as a truly terrifying warmonger span decades, and he has been critical of Trump—for a price. Bolton says what most of us already know: Trump’s extortion attempts, in the form of holding back military aid from Ukraine in order to dig up dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter, is a big part of the reason Vladimir Putin did not invade Ukraine until now.

“He obviously saw that Trump had contempt for the Ukrainians. I think that had an impact,” Bolton told VICE earlier this month. Bolton goes on to detail a phone conversation Trump had with Vladimir Putin, shortly after Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected, during which Trump asked Putin how he felt about him. According to Bolton, Trump’s lack of knowledge and backbone in that conversation likely reinforced Putin’s belief that Trump didn’t have strong feelings in support of Ukraine’s leadership.

Trump’s choice to bring Bolton on to replace H.R. McMaster was considered ominous at the time, since Bolton’s No. 1 foreign policy idea has always seemed to be “invade everybody.” But Bolton was in the rooms where Donald Trump conducted foreign policy discussions and played little brother to Putin. “Trump had no idea what the stakes were in Ukraine,” Bolton said.

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Bolton also pointed out that Trump’s general dislike of NATO, and his work to undermine NATO, worked in favor of Putin’s position. Trump’s interest in Ukraine, according to Bolton’s book, only perked up in “the summer of 2019 when [Trump] realized that he could have the possibility of holding up the obligation and delivery of substantial security assistance [to Ukraine] in an effort to get access to the Hillary Clinton computer server that he felt was in Ukraine, finding out about Hunter Biden’s income in Ukraine, and all of these things in this spaghetti bowl of conspiracy theories. That was the first time he really focused.”

In fact, Bolton explained to VICE, Trump’s lack of curiosity for anything is profound. “It's hard for me to describe how little he knows,” Bolton tried to explain. This true mediocrity is why Trump’s reasoning for things is so whimsical and useless. He has no context or knowledge for much of anything. “He once asked [then-White House Chief of Staff] John Kelly if Finland was part of Russia. What he cared about was the DNC server, and Hunter Biden, and the 2016 election, and the 2020 election. That's what it was all about. And I think he had next to no idea what the larger issues were.”

As a result, Vladimir Putin didn’t have to be aggressive about much of anything regarding U.S. policy in the region. “I think one of the reasons that Putin did not move during Trump’s term in office was he saw the president’s hostility of NATO. Putin saw Trump doing a lot of his work for him, and thought, maybe in a second term, Trump would make good on his desire to get out of NATO, and then it would just ease Putin’s path just that much more.” In another interview, Bolton said of Trump’s threats to pull out of NATO, “I think Putin was waiting for that.”

Bolton’s beef with Trump has also led him to rail against the right-wing narrative that Trump was tough on Putin, with the U.S. under Trump applying sanctions to Russia. “In almost every case, the sanctions were imposed with Trump complaining about it, saying we were being too hard,” told Newsmax when that ultra-right-wing outlet tried to get him to go along with the narrative that Biden was at fault for everything in the history of ever.

Bolton, in an interview with the Washington Post earlier in March, Bolton said that he believed Vladimir Putin’s lack of open invasion of Ukraine during the Trump administration was possibly predicated on the Russian dictator’s belief that Trump would pull the United States out of NATO during a second term in office.

Arguably the saddest exchange between Bolton and VICE’s interviewer is the one when Bolton says he is unsure what Trump would have done if Russia had invaded Ukraine when Trump was in office. He joked, “He never got that server! Those Ukrainians wouldn’t give him the server!” The interviewer remarked that Ukraine probably wished that this mythical server with Hillary’s secret plans existed so they could have ingratiated themselves to Trump. Bolton’s reply, also clearly joking (or half-joking, at least) sounds like something Trump and the MAGA world would have held up as proof, not the absurdist joke it would have been:

“They should have given him a server and said, ‘Hey, we found that—may have been erased, but here's the server.’”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger brings a bazooka to Josh Hawley’s knife fight

After being one of only 10 House Republicans to vote for Donald Trump’s impeachment, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois announced that he would be retiring from the House in 2022. After cultivating Tea Party support back in 2010, Rep. Kinzinger has fallen out of favor with the fascist base the Tea Party movement has morphed into. Along with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Kinzinger has become the main public target for the MAGA-wing of the Republican Party in the battle for power being waged between the old guard and the monster love child they have created.

Rep. Kinzinger has the conservative qualities we have come to expect from GOP officials: he is willing to say some heavy shit to attack the people he perceives as his enemies. He is also one of the main Republicans on the House select committee to investigate what happened leading up to and around Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. This means the GOP’s loudest, most obnoxious, and likely criminal sector of the Party, have named Kinzinger as their enemy.

On Wednesday, news reports came out that Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri—best known for being a truly abhorrent coward of a man—was “urging the Biden administration to drop any U.S. support for Ukrainian membership in NATO.” To many, this statement shows a very mysterious and frightening bit of similarity with the openly corrupt moves and policies of former President Trump and the associates he was forced to pardon. Rep. Kinzinger made a statement on Twitter that, while lacking nuance, is pretty goddamn amazing.

With a link to an article about Hawley’s position, Kinzinger wrote, “I hate to be so personal, but Hawley is one of the worst human beings, and a self egrandizing [sic] con artist. When Trump goes down I certainly hope this evil will be layed [sic] in the open for all to see, and be ashamed of.” Those are the kinds of phone typos one makes when one is fuming angry.

To be clear, Sen. Hawley’s position on Ukraine isn’t some peacenik, let us deescalate tensions with Russia foreign policy idea. Hawley would like those military members back in our country, protecting a selection of whites from Americans he doesn’t want voting. Up until [checks watch] Donald Trump and Paul Manafort, it was his political party’s position that Ukraine should be a part of NATO.

A reminder, Rep. Kinzinger is still a large part of the problem, but he is fighting to wrestle it away from politicians who are somehow even more detestable than him and Liz Cheney. The fact that former dark lord of the underworld, Dick Cheney’s daughter isn’t evil enough for the current crop of GOP operatives is terrifying.

History will remember that when democracy was at stake Adam Kinzinger voted against voting rights, by proxy.

— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) January 13, 2022

Sen. Hawley has already said all of the quiet things out loud. He has called Republican Jesus, Ronald Reagan, “ancient history,” and saluted the prospective insurrectionists with what seemed to be a white power sign, the morning of January 6, 2021. And he has always been this way. Since he was 15-years-old, he has defended the indefensible, people like disgraced racist Los Angeles cop Mark Fuhrman, and the Oklahoma City bombers. The state he represents has recently proposed a law that would in essence make murder legal, and more specifically the kind of murder our history books more correctly term “lynching.” 

Rep. Kinzinger and Rep. Liz Cheney are fighting for their political lives at this point in time. They represent the previous GOP establishment that had a little more generational wealth attached to their version of white supremacy. Rep. Kinzinger made the mistake of believing that Trump would leave and that the rest of the GOP would rally around moving forward with their big donor list and the billionaires that support them. Unfortunately, we are living in desperate times and the only way that Cheney and Kinzinger can survive is to do the right thing and bring criminal charges to light about the complicity and the possible conspiracy by Republicans like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Louie Gohmert, Mo Brooks, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and others, to overturn our democratically elected 46th President.

John Kelly defends Vindman for doing ‘exactly’ the right thing in response to an illegal order

For better than a year, John Kelly played the role of chief of staff for Donald Trump, during which time he was the designated the “adult in the room” who would supposedly keep Trump’s bad-baby behavior under control. That went so well. Kelly, who spent the six months before that running Homeland Security and turning the Border Patrol into a meaner and also a meaner force, was apparently unhappy during those White House days. But he could keep quiet for the sake of the children … that he put in cages.

Since then, Kelly has sat out any number of outrages. But it seems that in the post-impeachment world, as Trump is systematically disassembling the vestiges of the Justice Department and sending a key witness in his impeachment proceedings, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, off to somewhere so that “the military can do what they want” to him, Kelly has reached the point of being concerned enough to speak up—just like everyone else who leaves Trump’s White House and speaks out only when it can’t do a damn bit of good.

During his time sitting outside Trump’s office door, Kelly was often described as angry at some Trump policy, or frustrated by his inability to control Trump’s chaotic behavior, or infuriated by Trump’s willingness to listen to anyone who praised him, even when they didn’t have a clue about the facts. But the only effect of that anger seemed to be that for much of his time in office, Kelly was something less than a figurehead. He and Trump seemed to rarely talk, and policies were made without his knowledge or presence.

Now that he’s borrowed Susan Collins’ wagging finger of concern, Kelly has quite a few items on his list. As The Atlantic reports, Kelly spoke to students and guests at Drew University in New Jersey for over an hour, laying out concerns about

Trump’s personal relationship with Vladimir Putin and how it shaped U.S. policy with regard to Russia. Trump’s personal relationship with Kim Jong Un and how it shaped U.S. policy with regard to North Korea. Trump’s intervention in military discipline to pardon service members accused of war crimes. Trump’s absolute fixation on building a border wall and how it shaped policy with regard to Mexico and Central America.

On that last point, Kelly also expressed concern about about the language and tactics Trump used in his immigration policy, including calling all immigrants rapists. Which was very much not an apology for his role in the whole system.

However, one topic on which Kelly was particularly vocal was Trump’s actions against Vindman. Kelly praised the Army colonel, saying that Vindman did just what he was supposed to do when he reported his concerns about Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president. As The Hill reported, Kelly painted Vindman’s actions as just what would be expected of a good officer. “He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” said Kelly. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”

Kelly described what Trump has said was a “perfect call” as a fundamental change in the relationship between the United States and Ukraine. Until that point, starting during the Obama administration, the United States had a policy of supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia. With that call, Trump predicated that support on getting a personal political advantage.

“We teach them, don’t follow an illegal order.” said Kelly. “And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.”

But, of course, John Kelly is just one of “Trump’s generals”—the group that Trump used to give himself a semblance of credibility during his first days in office. All of them have since been disposed of, and Kelly’s words are likely to have all the sting of a tongue-lashing from James Mattis, or … Pufnstuf? Something like that.

Trump doesn’t need generals anymore. Or laws. But he may learn something from Kelly—that it’s time to get rid of the idea of an illegal order. When it comes from Trump, it can’t be illegal.

More leaks show Bolton’s book skewers Trump on his fondness for dictators

Even as Alan Dershowitz was wrapping up a day in which Trump’s legal team operated on the pretense that contents from John Bolton’s upcoming book had not been leaked over the weekend, The New York Times released more material from the manuscript. The primary subject of the new material was not Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine, but some of his connections to other foreign governments, including those of Turkey and China, where Trump appeared to be placing a personal relationship—or personal benefits—above national concerns.

The most interesting point from the just-reported pages might not be so much what as who. Because it was not only John Bolton who expressed concern about Trump’s willingness to nod along with dictators. Also worried by Trump’s actions was the man who has been Trump’s primary enabler: Attorney General William Barr.

While Bolton was fretting that Trump was weakening national security policies toward Turkey and China to maintain his personal relationships with Tayyip Erdoğan and cake-buddy Xi Jinping, Barr had other concerns. The issues with both Turkey and China were the subjects of independent investigations by the FBI and the Department of Justice. But Trump was directly putting his fingers all over the issues involved in those investigations. That appears to include having had conversations with both Erdoğan and Xi in which he may have passed along information on the status of the investigations.

Even before his election, Trump had a fondness for dictators. Since he has occupied the White House, that unbridled power has become the model for how he does business, and for what he looks for in a “peer.” Erdoğan, Xi, Mohammed bin Salman, Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, and Rodrigo Duterte come in for almost unlimited praise for their “toughness,” even when that toughness is expressed in mass murder. On the other hand, more democratic leaders of traditional allies—from Canada to European countries—have come in for constant attacks by Trump. Apparently even senior officials in Trump’s White House are less than thrilled with his willingness to embrace dictators and swoon over those whose policies are far from democratic ideals. Trump’s actions have also interfered in investigations targeting financial institutions involved in money laundering and evading international sanctions.

As The Washington Post reports, each release of information from Bolton’s book is turning up the heat in D.C. While this certainly isn’t the first book in which a former member of the Trump White House details the deep dysfunction and struggle to patch over Trump’s latest disasters, Bolton’s long history within the Republican Party is giving this manuscript extra impact. That impact is multiplied a thousandfold by the timing of the leak during Trump’s impeachment.

According to the Post, the connection between Ukraine funds and the desired investigation into a political rival isn’t a quick hit in the manuscript, but part of over a dozen pages devoted to Bolton’s involvement in the Ukraine scheme. The Post also notes a lot of friction that existed between Trump’s staff of personally loyal toadies and Bolton as a representative of old-school Republican conservatives. Bolton was looked on from the beginning not as an agent of the deep state, but as an agent of the traditional right—and there was no love lost between Bolton and Trump, or Bolton and Trump’s closest supporters.

What both the manuscript and White House reports indicate is that Bolton “was regularly appalled” by Trump’s actions and statements. So appalled that he was willing to tell anyone—after he left the administration and signed a seven-figure contract.