John Bolton had good reasons not to leak his book — so who did?

There really is nothing surprising about John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump offered North Korea's Kim a ride home on Air Force One: report Key impeachment figure Pence sticks to sidelines Bolton lawyer: Trump impeachment trial is constitutional MORE’s so-called “revelations” as they appeared in the New York Times. By now, everyone — including those Republican senators who insist on standing by the president — recognizes that Donald Trump played fast and loose with the national interest when he withheld congressionally approved aid to Ukraine until he was assured that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was prepared publicly to announce an investigation of the Bidens pere et fils. Nor is it surprising that the president’s minions have turned on Bolton, accusing him of leaking the book’s contents to the Times in order to boost its prospective sales once it appears.

And there’s the rub. For if Bolton wanted to receive White House clearance for his book, as he most certainly did, the last thing he should have done was to leak (or encourage someone else to leak) some of its most controversial sections while the manuscript was still under review. On the contrary, in light of the leaks, the White House bureaucracy is likely to delay clearing the book for publication. Alternatively, the White House staff could determine that several of the most revealing portions of the book be treated as classified material not releasable to the public. Worse still, the White House could simply refuse to clear any part of Bolton’s manuscript, thereby preventing its ever being published. Why, if Bolton was hoping that his book would make the best-seller list, would he possibly risk its prospects for ever seeing the light of day?

It is well-known that this White House leaks like the proverbial sieve, perhaps much more so than others before it, much to President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE’s chagrin. No doubt there are still some dedicated public servants who have been repelled by the president’s behavior, and do not wish him well. It is most likely from their quarter that the leak emerged. Perhaps they are part of the supposed “deep state” against which the president constantly rails.


It is truly noteworthy that Bolton, who long has come under attack from Democrats and liberals, now is being attacked by Republicans and conservatives. Nothing could better demonstrate the man’s integrity. If someone is attacked from both directions, no doubt he or she is on to something. 

One might consider Bolton to be a warmonger, as many on the political left have done for years, but he is no liar. At the time of his appointment as national security adviser, I wrote that Bolton, with whom I occasionally have interacted over the decades, probably would not survive a year under Trump. The president may have hired Bolton because he is a hawkish nationalist who disdains treaties and international organizations, such as the United Nations, where he served under President George W. Bush. But Bolton’s nationalism never has been subject to whimsy, nor does he believe in flattering America’s adversaries. It was therefore evident from the day he was hired that Bolton simply would not be able to tolerate the president’s self-serving impulsiveness and inconsistency. Bolton is nothing if not thoughtful and consistent. 

I was wrong about how long Bolton would be able to serve under Trump. He lasted four months longer than I predicted. Ultimately, however, his personal sense of right and wrong resulted in his departure. Whether he resigned or was fired makes little difference. He could not continue to work for this president. 

The leaked manuscript only confirms what those who have encountered Bolton over the years have known all along: Whatever his views, Bolton is a man of conviction, whose sole objective as a public servant has been truly to place America first.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.