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September 16, 2019

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Trump dismisses John Bolton, says they ‘disagreed strongly’

John Bolton

Evan Vucci / AP

In this May 1, 2019 file photo, national security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters outside the White House in Washington.

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 | 10:20 a.m.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday forced out John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser with whom he had significant disagreements on Iran, Afghanistan and a cascade of other global challenges.

The two men offered opposing accounts on Bolton's less than friendly departure, a leave-taking example of what had been a fractious relationship almost from the start.

Trump tweeted that he told Bolton Monday night his services were no longer needed at the White House and Bolton submitted his resignation Tuesday morning. Bolton responded in a tweet of his own that he offered to resign Monday "and President Trump said, 'Let's talk about it tomorrow.'"

Trump said that he had "disagreed strongly" with many of Bolton's suggestions as national security adviser, "as did others in the administration."

The departure comes at a trying moment for the Trump administration on the world stage, weeks ahead of the United Nations General Assembly and as the president faces pressing decisions on a host of foreign policy issues.

In recent months, tensions have risen between Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over influence in the president's orbit and how to manage the president's desire to negotiate with some of the world's most unsavory actors.

Since joining the administration in the spring of last year, Bolton has espoused skepticism about the president's whirlwind rapprochement with North Korea and has advocated against Trump's decision last year to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. He masterminded a quiet campaign inside the administration and with allies abroad to persuade Trump to keep U.S. forces in Syria to counter the remnants of the Islamic State and Iranian influence in the region.

Bolton was also opposed to Trump's now-scrapped notion to bring Taliban negotiators to Camp David last weekend to try to finalize a peace deal in Afghanistan.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was traveling with Trump Monday, said reports of Bolton's dissent on the Taliban meeting was a "bridge too far" for Trump.

One Republican familiar with the disagreements between Trump and Bolton said the adviser's opposition to a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a precipitating factor in the dismissal. French President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to broker such a meeting, possibly on the sidelines of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, in the hope of salvaging the international Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from.

Bolton and his National Security Council staff were also viewed warily by some in the White House who viewed them as more attuned to their own agendas than the president's — and some administration aides have accused Bolton's staff of being behind leaks of information embarrassing to Trump.

Bolton's ouster came as a surprise to many in the White House. Just an hour before Trump's tweet, the press office announced that Bolton would join Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a briefing. A White House official said that Bolton had departed the premises after Trump's tweet and would no longer appear as scheduled.

In a further sign of acrimonious relationship, a person close to Bolton told reporters that they had been authorized to say one thing — that since Bolton has been national security adviser there have been no "bad deals" on Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria. The person, who did not divulge who had given the authorization, was not allowed to discuss the issue by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

When asked to respond to the person's comment, White House press secretary Grisham smiled and told reporters: "I don't know how to read" it. "Sounds like just somebody trying to protect him," she added.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the move was a cause for worry.

"I'm legitimately shaken by the grave instability of American foreign policy today," Murphy tweeted. "I'm no Bolton fan, but the world is coming apart, and the revolving door of U.S. leadership is disappearing America from the world just at the moment where a stable American hand is most needed."

Bolton was always an unlikely pick to be Trump's third national security adviser, with a world view seemingly ill-fit to the president's isolationist "America First" pronouncements.

He's championed hawkish foreign policy views dating back to the Reagan administration and became a household name over his vociferous support for the Iraq War as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush. Bolton briefly considered running for president in 2016, in part to make the case against the isolationism that Trump would come to embody.

Still, Trump has admired Bolton for years, praising him on Twitter as far back as 2014. Trump has told allies he thinks Bolton is "a killer" on television, where Bolton is a frequent face on Fox News, though the president has voiced some unhappiness about Bolton's trademark mustache, said a person familiar the president's thinking but not permitted to reveal private discussions.

Bolton was named Trump's third national security adviser in March 2018 after the departure of Army Gen. H.R. McMaster. Trump said he would name a replacement for Bolton next week.

AP writers Matthew Lee and Jonathan Lemire contributed.