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.’”

Fiona Hill: Putin tried to warn Trump he would go nuclear, but Trump didn’t understand the warning

If you remember the name Fiona Hill, it’s likely because of her testimony in Donald Trump’s first impeachment inquiry, at which she distinguished herself as a forceful, knowledgeable, and fearless public servant. Hill is a Russia expert who was speaking about her time as the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council under Trump. She offered a strong warning about Russia’s efforts to undermine U.S. democracy in that testimony. So she’s an interesting and important person to hear from about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—even as we should keep in mind that Hill is known as a Russia hawk and speaks from that perspective—and Politico’s Maura Reynolds gives us that chance with an in-depth interview.

It’s scary stuff, even beyond Hill’s warning that Putin really might use nuclear weapons—and in fact that he had tried to warn Trump about his willingness to do so (only Trump didn’t understand the warning). “The thing about Putin is, if he has an instrument, he wants to use it. Why have it if you can’t?” Hill said. Running through Russia’s recent history of poisonings with radioactive polonium and the Novichok nerve agent, Hill concluded, “So if anybody thinks that Putin wouldn’t use something that he’s got that is unusual and cruel, think again. Every time you think, ‘No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would. And he wants us to know that, of course.”

She continued, “It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared. That’s exactly what he wants us to be. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”

Hill faults the United States and NATO on failure to be prepared for contingencies, going back years. “I think there’s been a logical, methodical plan that goes back a very long way, at least to 2007 when [Putin] put the world, and certainly Europe, on notice that Moscow would not accept the further expansion of NATO. And then, within a year in 2008, NATO gave an open door to Georgia and Ukraine. It absolutely goes back to that juncture,” she told Reynolds. “Back then, I was a national intelligence officer, and the National Intelligence Council was analyzing what Russia was likely to do in response to the NATO Open Door declaration. One of our assessments was that there was a real, genuine risk of some kind of preemptive Russian military action, not just confined to the annexation of Crimea, but some much larger action taken against Ukraine along with Georgia. And of course, four months after NATO’s Bucharest Summit, there was the invasion of Georgia. There wasn’t an invasion of Ukraine then because the Ukrainian government pulled back from seeking NATO membership. But we should have seriously addressed how we were going to deal with this potential outcome and our relations with Russia.”

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, though, is not mostly about NATO, in Hill’s assessment. It’s not even entirely about restoring the borders of the Soviet Union. Hill thinks Putin is looking back further in time.

“I’ve kind of quipped about this, but I also worry about it in all seriousness—Putin’s been down in the archives of the Kremlin during COVID looking through old maps and treaties and all the different borders that Russia has had over the centuries,” she said.

“He’s said, repeatedly, that Russian and European borders have changed many times. And in his speeches, he’s gone after various former Russian and Soviet leaders, he’s gone after Lenin and he’s gone after the communists, because in his view they ruptured the Russian empire, they lost Russian lands in the revolution, and yes, Stalin brought some of them back into the fold again, like the Baltic States and some of the lands of Ukraine that had been divided up during World War II, but they were lost again with the dissolution of the USSR. Putin’s view is that borders change, and so the borders of the old Russian imperium are still in play for Moscow to dominate now.”

Domination doesn’t necessarily mean occupying or annexing another country. “You can establish dominance by marginalizing regional countries, by making sure that their leaders are completely dependent on Moscow, either by Moscow practically appointing them through rigged elections or ensuring they are tethered to Russian economic and political and security networks,” Hill noted. “You can see this now across the former Soviet space,” including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Belarus, with Ukraine being “the country that got away.”

Putin’s determination to break Ukraine could mean occupation, but, Hill said, “What Putin wants isn’t necessarily to occupy the whole country, but really to divide it up. He’s looked at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and other places where there’s a division of the country between the officially sanctioned forces on the one hand, and the rebel forces on the other. That’s something that Putin could definitely live with—a fractured, shattered Ukraine with different bits being in different statuses.”

Putin is also engaged in what Hill describes as “a full-spectrum information war.” In that information war, “You get the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps doing your job for you. The fact that Putin managed to persuade Trump that Ukraine belongs to Russia and that Trump would be willing to give up Ukraine without any kind of fight, that’s a major success for Putin’s information war.”

Hill said that the response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine must go beyond NATO. “I’m not saying that that means an international military response that’s larger than NATO, but the push back has to be international,” she clarified. That means an economic response that goes beyond sanctions.

”Sanctions are not going to be enough. You need to have a major international response, where governments decide on their own accord that they can’t do business with Russia for a period of time until this is resolved. We need a temporary suspension of business activity with Russia,” Hill said. “Just as we wouldn’t be having a full-blown diplomatic negotiation for anything but a ceasefire and withdrawal while Ukraine is still being actively invaded, so it’s the same thing with business. Right now you’re fueling the invasion of Ukraine. So what we need is a suspension of business activity with Russia until Moscow ceases hostilities and withdraws its troops.”

And, Hill said in a conversation that repeatedly invoked World War II as a precedent, Putin will not stop at Ukraine unless the response is such that he has no choice. There’s a lot more there. Agree or disagree with her, Hill’s take as an expert not just on Russia but on Putin specifically is worth reading in full.

Jen Psaki tears into Josh Hawley for ‘parroting Russian talking points’

It would be nice if we could clone White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki thousands of times and send the newly minted Psaki Corps out to every drunk uncle and horse paste-chugging churl in the U.S., but we don’t have that technology. (Plus it might be unethical or something.)

But while the idea of a rhetorically well-armed Psaki Corps may be a nonstarter (and it would have been nice if someone had apprised me of the ethical conundrums before I designed the uniforms), we’re fortunate to have the Psaki we have. She’s more than a match for Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who has been half-digesting and fully regurgitating Russian propaganda over the past several days.

After Hawley noted that maybe we should just give Putin what he wants in his increasingly aggressive campaign against Ukraine—a rhetorical dereliction that naturally plays right into Putin’s hands—Psaki let loose the dogs of war.

Watch:

Jen Psaki slams Josh Hawley and the rest of the Republicans in Congress who have been "parroting Russian talking points" pic.twitter.com/ZPvlzCRXer

— Brad Beauregard Jr 🇺🇸 (@BradBeauregardJ) February 2, 2022

Transcript!

REPORTER: “Sen. Hawley put out a statement today saying that the president should take NATO membership off the table for Ukraine, that it wasn’t in U.S. interests to do that. Do you think that sort of rhetoric or that sort of position by a U.S. senator right now is helpful in this showdown between the West and Russia?”

PSAKI: “Well, if you are digesting Russian misinformation and parroting Russian talking points, you are not aligned with longstanding, bipartisan American values, which is to stand up for the sovereignty of countries, like Ukraine but others. Their right to choose their own alliances, and also to stand against, very clearly, the efforts or attempts or potential attempts by any country to invade and take territory of another country. That applies to Sen. Hawley, but it also applies to others who may be parroting the talking points of Russian propagandist leaders.”

It’s unclear exactly why Hawley suddenly decided to take the murderous thug Putin’s side over that of our natural ally, but it hasn’t gone over all that well, even among members of his own party.

In response to Hawley’s letter, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of the few Republicans left in Congress who actually cares about representative democracy, tweeted this:

I hate to be so personal, but Hawley is one of the worst human beings, and a self egrandizing con artist. When Trump goes down I certainly hope this evil will be layed in the open for all to see, and be ashamed of. https://t.co/3LirLgeuMz

— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) February 2, 2022

For the nontweeters:

“I hate to be so personal, but Hawley is one of the worst human beings, and a self [aggrandizing] con artist. When Trump goes down I certainly hope this evil will be [laid] in the open for all to see, and be ashamed of.”

When Hawley was informed of Kinzinger’s tweet, he laughed and responded, “Weird.” Kinzinger was ready for that one.

It is weird. We are in weird times. Like having a Senator more interested in pleasing Tucker and playing to worst instincts than leading. Denying Jan 6th truth despite fomenting it, among other things. https://t.co/Uovrh172dh

— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) February 2, 2022

“It is weird.  We are in weird times. Like having a Senator more interested in pleasing Tucker and playing to worst instincts than leading. Denying Jan 6th truth despite fomenting it, among other things.”

Yeah, weird indeed to see Republicans, who are generally all-in on unnecessary wars, do their level best to undermine our best efforts to prevent this one. I lost track of the number of times during the 2003 runup to the Iraq disaster that Republicans compared antiwar peeps (like me, or Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas) to notorious World War II appeaser Neville Chamberlain—all because we thought it might be foolish to invade a country for no clear reason. Well, now we have every reason in the world to project power, unity, and strength in defense of liberal democracy, and suddenly Republicans have cold feet. Unfortunately, this attempt to chip away at our united front can only embolden Putin, who wants nothing more than for the West to drop its longstanding commitment to democracy so he can ooze into the gaps.

Hawley, who attended both Stanford and Yale, must surely know that. Just as he surely knew there were no credible reports of voter fraud prior to the Jan. 6 riot that he egged on.

But Hawley has likely been watching Tucker Carlson, who’s making inroads with his viewers when it comes to supporting Putin against our friendly democratic ally.

That’s right: Carlson’s pro-autocratic bleating is now apparently informing the decisions of Republican politicians, who are distancing themselves from Ukraine as much as possible.

Axios:

Republicans running in high-profile primary races aren't racing to defend Ukraine against a possible Russian invasion. They're settling on a different line of attack: Blame Biden, not Putin.

What's happening: Leery of the base, they are avoiding — and in some cases, rejecting — the tough-on-Russia rhetoric that once defined the Republican Party. GOP operatives working in 2022 primary races tell Axios they worry they'll alienate the base if they push to commit American resources to Ukraine or deploy U.S. troops to eastern Europe.

...

The big picture: Republican hopefuls who vow not to assist in any potential conflict in Ukraine are reflecting — and fanning — anti-interventionist sentiments in the modern GOP.

Hmm. Who’s like Neville Chamberlain now? 

Of course, it helps not to elect a bellowing, kompromat-encrusted lout to the highest office in the land if you’re hoping to protect democracy and human rights around the globe. As Axios notes, frustration with our long, Republican-initiated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as “former President Donald Trump's warmer posture toward Russia,” have helped nudge the GOP in this new direction.

That said, chances are Hawley is just playing politics here. If Biden had said we were going to bar Ukraine from NATO, Hawley would probably be calling for his impeachment this morning. The dude sways in whatever direction the foul Mordor winds blow.

But this isn’t a joke. We’re talking about the fate of a fragile democratic state with 44 million souls yearning to stay free. Americans once cared about such things, and many of us still do.

Then again, Josh Hawley isn’t much of an American, is he?

It made comedian Sarah Silverman say, “THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT,” and prompted author Stephen King to shout “Pulitzer Prize!!!” (on Twitter, that is). What is it? The viral letter that launched four hilarious Trump-trolling books. Get them all, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Or, if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE

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. pic.twitter.com/vgvSOrIvvn

— 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.