John Matisonn: 'Obstruction of justice is a way of life' for Trump - royalty before loyalty?

US president Donald Trump. (Getty Images)
US president Donald Trump. (Getty Images)
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Image

Early leaks of John Bolton’s book, "The room where it happened", embargoed for release on Tuesday, contain an indictment so scathing even his enemies struggled for adjectives.

If true, former national security adviser John Bolton’s latest revelations indicate President Donald Trump is unfit to occupy the Oval Office: Bolton says Trump does not act in the interests of his country.

This represents a danger beyond the US at a time when international leadership is required to combat the health crisis, the economic crisis and outbreaks of racial tension in many parts of the world.

Though Bolton provides more information and more extreme examples than others have made public, they appear consistent with the conclusions of other departing senior Trump appointees.

Early leaks of his book, "The room where it happened", embargoed for release on Tuesday, contain an indictment so scathing even his enemies struggled for adjectives. 

Bolton saw no loyalty to his country in Trump's foreign policy decisions. "I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn't driven by re-election calculations," he wrote.

Responding to Bolton's book, the most powerful Democrat in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, described Trump as "ethically unfit and intellectually unprepared" to be president.

Bolton gave several examples when Trump was willing to halt criminal investigations "to, in effect, give personal favours to dictators he liked… The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept," Bolton wrote.

Bolton said he reported his concerns to the Attorney General, William Barr, whose spokesperson disputed the claim.

Bolton said Trump was willing to influence prosecutions of Turkey's Halkbank to assuage President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and China's ZTE to score points with President Xi.

Bolton said Democrats committed "impeachment malpractice by keeping their prosecution focused narrowly on Ukraine when Trump'ys Ukraine-like transgressions existed across the full range of his foreign policy".

The book is the most powerful attack by a Republican heavyweight ever. He says Trump supported the detention of one million Muslims in China, asked President Xi for help in his own re-election, wants to abolish presidential term limits, didn't know Britain was a nuclear power and wondered if Finland was part of Russia.

Is there any reason to doubt Bolton? He is disliked by Democrats because he is a foreign policy hawk who was intimately involved with the steps leading to the 2003 Iraq war. He wants a military response to Iran, and supported Trump's decision to tear up the Iran agreement crafted by President Barack Obama and his western allies.

Reviewers who received advance copies of the book have criticised both the style and Bolton’s opinions, but he is a Yale-educated lawyer whose passion for advancing US interests is not doubted.

He is like many Republicans who want to get rid of President Donald Trump, but they want to save the Republican Party. That explains his refusal to testify against Trump in his impeachment hearing, which he followed with a book saying the Democrats should have gone much further in exposing the president's malfeasance.

Bolton's manoeuvrings satisfied nobody, but that, and a $2 million book contract, explains why he acted as he did. By refusing to obey a House of Representatives' subpoena, but offering to obey one from the Senate, Bolton made the requisite bow to his party - only if the Republican-controlled Senate summoned him would he have the political cover he needed. The Republican Senate said no, and that was that.

From his earliest days in business, Trump used the courts cynically, to intimidate or delay outcomes. That too is becoming less effective.

The Washington judge who heard his plea to stop the Bolton book this week was unsympathetic, even though she had critical questions about Bolton's behaviour too.

The administration lost two Supreme Court cases this week, despite the conservative majority on the court which includes two hand-picked Trump appointees. His first appointment, Neil Gorsuch, joined the conservative chief justice, John Roberts, in rejecting the administration's position that workers can be fired for being transgender or in a gay marriage.

Justices' appointments are for life, and Roberts is known to be concerned to protect the Supreme Court from charges that its nine members vote based only on politics. He has surprised conservatives by backing the liberal position is a range of cases, including one that saved President Barack Obama's health policy, Obamacare.

Trump is itching to go out on the road and campaign. To do that he and Vice President Mike Pence, head of the Covid-19 task force, have ignored indications that infections are spiking upwards at the first stop on Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and requiring attendees to sign wavers exempting the Trump campaign from responsibility if they get sick or die.

Followers at the event were as supportive of the president as ever. Most declined to wear masks, following the lead from the White House. But there is a high likelihood infections will soar. What will be the political impact if a super-spreader can be traced to a Trump rally?

Trump's political success has always benefited from assumptions that he was not necessarily a good man but, his supporters said, maybe you needed a tough guy for the times.

He won overwhelming support from evangelical Christians who conceded he did not fit their beliefs in monogamy and Christian morals, but supported their opposition to abortion, gay marriage and other cultural issues. 

But the list of those concerned about the damage to the country is growing. Trump has the highest turnover of high officials of any president in history, and the highest number who have criticised not only some policies but his character and his competence.

Reporters have become used to Friday night firings, done then because the publicity is least damaging. This weekend was no different. Barr announced the departure of Geoffrey Berman, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York. This position is probably the most important prosecutor in the land because it tends to handle the biggest and most complex cases.

Berman conducted the prosecution of both Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, and Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire friend of Trump and Prince Andrew jailed for sex offences, who took his own life in his prison cell.

But the announcement may prove a mistake. Berman immediately announced that the Attorney General had misread the law. Berman was not appointed by the administrations and so could not be removed by it, he claimed. This is because in three and a half years, the administration has failed to find and nominate a candidate and win senate confirmation. Berman, a Trump appointee to a lower position, was appointed by a judge to do the job until a replacement is nominated and senate confirmed.

The legal point has never been tested in court. So far Berman has refused to depart. It seemed to be yet another misstep of the administration involving the justice system.

Trump is suffering in the opinion polls. A majority of the country does not believe he has managed the Covid-19 pandemic or recent racial tension well. Most damaging for his re-election chances, polling in the so-called battleground states is moving steadily towards his opponent, former vice president Joe Biden.

Biden is currently ahead by more than five percent in Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Though much can change before the November vote, those numbers are rightly causing alarm for the Trump campaign. If this continues, Trump will lose power.

Meanwhile, the next book of revelations comes out next month from his psychologist niece, Dr Mary Trump. Her side of the family have litigated against Trump, and there is no love lost. Her book is called "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man".

- John Matisonn is the author of CYRIL’S CHOICES, Lessons from 25 years of freedom in South Africa.

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