Republicans brush off Bolton's bombshells

Senate Republicans faced another Trump-related crisis on Thursday, a day after media outlets reported bombshell claims by former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Will Pence primary Trump — and win? Bolton: Trump lacked enough 'advance thinking' for a coup MORE in his new memoir, “The Room Where It Happened.”

Privately, however, GOP senators who spoke to The Hill expressed little doubt that what Bolton has written about his interactions with President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE are by and large true.

It didn’t come as a shock to them that Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy American soybeans and other farm commodities to help him win reelection, or that he didn’t know that Britain was a nuclear power, or that he spent most of the time in his intelligence briefings airing his own views instead of listening to what experts had to say, or that he intervened to lighten penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE.

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“I know John Bolton. I genuinely found him to be a straightforward [and] honest. The things that I hear that he reports being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity.

The lawmaker, however, added that Bolton is not very much liked in Washington because he is perceived as arrogant, which may explain why he’s not getting as much public support from Republicans as former Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Trump says Gen. Milley 'last person' he'd want to start a coup with Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill MORE, who also delivered a searing public critique of Trump earlier this month.

The senator called Bolton “condescending” and then rephrased the description as “very certain of his views.”

A second GOP senator criticized Bolton’s decision to air Trump’s laundry in a book published a few months before Election Day.

“I have a distaste for someone who leaves an administration and tries to make money off it in a sensational way,” the lawmaker said.

But the senator acknowledged: “At the same time, he was in and around” the president’s inner circle at the time of the described events and had a first-hand view that no one in Congress has.

Republican senators publicly fell into three camps.

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Some, such as Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordAbbott slams Ben & Jerry's for Palestine support: 'Disgraceful' Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Republican calls on Oklahoma to ban Ben & Jerry's MORE (R-Okla.), questioned Bolton’s motives, noting he stands to make a lot of money by selling books and has publicly feuded with Trump since leaving the White House under a cloud of acrimony.

“This looks more like book sales than it does anything else,” he said.

Others, such as Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-Utah) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBreak glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (R-Fla.), are raising concerns about some of the conduct detailed in Bolton’s book but acknowledge they have no way to verify his claims.  

And others, such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-Maine), Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms MORE (R-Colo.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.), are simply declining to comment.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoFormer Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi dies after bicycle accident Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee in tie vote MORE (R-Wyo.), one of the president’s outspoken defenders, said, “Every time I’ve been in a meeting with John Bolton, he wants to be considered the smartest guy in the room.”

“He thinks he ought to be president, Speaker of the House and chief justice of the Supreme Court all at the same time,” he said.

Barrasso said several of Bolton’s claims that have received a lot of media attention aren’t all that surprising.

“He makes claims that the president was concerned about his reelection. Tell me a president that’s not interested in his reelection,” he said. “He’s complaining that the president was trying to sell agriculture products in China. For Wyoming, we want him to be selling agriculture products in China.”

The strongest criticism Thursday came from Romney, who says he does not plan to vote for Trump’s reelection.

Asked about Bolton’s claim that Trump encouraged the Chinese president to go ahead and build concentration camps for Uighurs, a minority Muslim population, Romney said: “If that’s accurate, that would obviously be a reprehensible comment.”

Romney cautioned “we don’t whether that’s actually what happened” but added he has no reason to doubt Bolton’s claims.

“I think he’s a very credible person,” he said.

Romney noted that he was one of two Republicans, along with Collins, to vote for Bolton to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial.

“I wish we did have a trial with people testifying under oath, that’s one of the things I voted for,” he said.

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Collins told reporters that she has “started to” review Bolton’s claims but got into her car on the Capitol’s East Front after the last vote of the week and didn’t provide any reaction to media reports about Bolton’s book.

Gardner, who faces a tough reelection in November, declined to answer questions about Bolton’s claims because he had not yet reviewed them.

Asked if he Bolton should have been called to testify at the trial, Gardner told CNN that House Democrats made the decision not to subpoena the former national security adviser.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-Alaska), a moderate who said earlier this month she is “struggling” over whether to vote for Trump in November, said she doesn’t regret her decision to vote against subpoenaing Bolton to testify at the impeachment trial.

“I made the decision that I made at the time that I made it, and there’s no going back,” she said. “I don’t regret that decision. Like I say, there’s no going back.”

Rubio, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, indicated Thursday that he’s not surprised by Bolton’s claim that Trump intervened to lighten a penalty on the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE for evading sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

Rubio said it was “a big mistake” to weaken the penalty on ZTE.

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“I don’t think there was ever any dispute that part of the decision on ZTE was made as a way to de-escalate tensions with the Chinese,” Rubio said when asked about Bolton’s claim that politics factored into the ZTE decision.  

Rubio said the decision to lighten the penalty should be reviewed.

“I disagreed with that decision then and I still disagree with the decision to water down that penalty,” he said.

He said Bolton’s description of the decisionmaking process is “more explosive” and that “I have no way of knowing” if his version of events is entirely accurate.

Rubio didn’t seem shocked either by Bolton’s claim that Trump said it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela.

“I’ve never heard him say ‘cool.’ I know the president has been very forward-leaning on Venezuela policy and has talked about his belief that it could one day require stronger intervention than what we see now,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s news,” he added.