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Sep 11, 2019  
Bolton's chaotic White House departure
President Donald Trump and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The last time National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke with President Donald Trump was Monday afternoon around 2 p.m. in the Oval Office — offering to resign — about 22 hours before the president's Tuesday tweet suggesting that he had fired Bolton, according to a person familiar with the situation. 

Why it matters: The timeline contradicts the president's account and speaks volumes about how Trump runs his administration.

  • It underscores Trump's pattern of adjusting facts to fit his narrative, a week after the "Sharpie" controversy involving the path of Hurricane Dorian.
  • It also serves to warn Bolton's successor — whom Trump says he'll name next week — what they're signing up for.
Here's how Tuesday's events played out:

  • At around 11:30 a.m., Bolton submitted a resignation letter to the president dated Sept. 10, and hand-delivered copies to others including the offices of Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, the person said.
  • At 11:58 a.m., Trump tweeted that he had informed Bolton the night before that "his services are no longer needed at the White House."
  • A Bolton tweet countered that, saying that he had offered to resign Monday night and Trump said, "Let's talk about it tomorrow."
  • That nighttime reference was an oversight that does not reflect the actual timeline, the source said.
What's next:

  • Trump is seeking input from Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Republican lawmakers and others on who should replace Bolton, two people familiar with the deliberations tell Axios.
  • Contenders mentioned most often by people close to the White House include Maj. Gen. Ricky Waddell, a former Trump deputy national security adviser and assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea. CNN reported last month that he could be tapped as ambassador to Russia.  
  • Trump also has spoken favorably of the State Department's special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, and Pence's national security adviser Keith Kellogg, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox.
For now, Trump's deputy national security adviser Charlie Kupperman is serving as acting national security adviser.

  • White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tells Axios that there are currently no frontrunners on who will replace Bolton. She adds that "of course" the president is consulting others on a big decision like this.
The backstory: Bolton's end at the White House follows his resistance to peace talks with Afghanistan that included Trump's desire to host the Taliban at Camp David. Even though Trump scrapped the secret plan after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, he fumed over reports about internal resistance to the idea.

  • Trump made no mention of the one-on-one meeting with Bolton, which was not on his public schedule, when he emerged on the South Lawn at 2:36 p.m. on Monday and held court for 25 minutes with reporters before flying to a rally in North Carolina.
  • Asked then if his advisers had talked him out of meeting with the Taliban at Camp David, Trump said, "I took my own advice."
  • He likes the idea of meeting with bad people, he said, but it wasn't possible after the Taliban claimed credit for killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. "It was my idea," he said of the meeting plan that Bolton opposed, "and it was my idea to terminate it."
The bottom line: Bolton is "the dog who caught the car," said one person close to the administration. He always wanted the job, but his differing views on North Korea, Syria military engagement and his strong will increasingly angered Trump.

Go deeper
Trump rips into John Bolton, denies he resigned
Bolton with his bag packed, on a trip to Nashville last May. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump addressed the reasons behind John Bolton's removal as national security adviser on Wednesday, telling reporters that Bolton "made some very big mistakes" and was "not getting along with people in the administration."

The backdrop: The tumultuous working relationship between Trump and his ultra-hawkish adviser ended suddenly on Tuesday. Trump tweeted that he'd fired Bolton, who then claimed to have resigned. Trump insisted that it was his decision to terminate Bolton, but said his former top aide "can do whatever he can do to spin it his way."

Go deeperArrow Sep 11, 2019  
 
Bolton's exit could reconfigure Trump's foreign policy process
Former national security adviser John Bolton. Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The departure of John Bolton, President Trump's third national security adviser, injects still more volatility into U.S. foreign policy, and the choice of his successor has profound implications for U.S. national security interests.

The big picture: Bolton successfully influenced U.S. withdrawals from the Iran nuclear deal, arms control treaties and international agreements, while chipping away at American commitments to multilateralism. But he had become marginalized in the White House as his hawkish approach increasingly clashed with Trump's deal-making instincts.

Go deeperArrow Sep 11, 2019  
 
Bolton lashes out at Trump's foreign policy at event: Reports
President Trump and John Bolton at the White House in July. Photo: by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former national security adviser John Bolton told a Manhattan event Wednesday that negotiations with North Korea and Iran are "doomed to failure" and a plan to invite the Taliban to Camp David ahead of the 9/11 anniversary was "disrespectful," Politico and CNN report.

Why it matters: It was already clear that Bolton had sharp disagreements with Trump during his time at the White House. But his reported comments at the private lunch are remarkable not just because they reveal how bitter Bolton's disputes with Trump were, but also because he seems willing to openly air them just days after leaving the White House.

Go deeperArrow Sep 19, 2019  
 
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