President Trump said Wednesday that he fired John Bolton because his national security adviser “made some very big mistakes” in the negotiations with North Korea that “set us back.”
“John is somebody that I actually get along with very well. He made some very big mistakes when he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong Un,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, after announcing the administration would seek to prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. “That was not a good statement to make. You just take a look at what happened with Gadhafi. That was not a good statement to make. And it set us back.”
Trump was referring to a remark by Bolton nearly a year and a half ago, describing Libya as a model for the denuclearization of North Korea. Moammar Gadhafi, the longtime Libyan dictator, agreed to give up his nuclear-weapons program in 2003 in exchange for the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions. Eight years later, Gadhafi was overthrown and killed by rebels, who were supported by NATO airstrikes.
Foreign-policy experts believed Bolton’s statement was counterproductive to Trump’s goal of reaching an agreement with Kim. When Trump took his historic step across the border into North Korea, Bolton was not part of his entourage. He had been relegated to a meeting in Mongolia.
Citing administration officials, several media outlets reported this week that tensions between Trump and Bolton came to a head over the president’s invitation to Taliban representatives to peace negotiations at Camp David. Thatmeeting, had Trump not canceled it at the last minute, would have taken place this week, on the anniversary of theSept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which were planned by Osama bin Laden, who was living at the time in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban.
White House National Security Advisor John Bolton
White House National Security Advisor John Bolton
John Bolton, national security advisor, speaks during a White House press briefing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. Russian efforts to interfere in upcoming U.S. midterm elections have yet to reach the intensity of the Kremlin's campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential vote, but they're only 'a keyboard click away' from a more serious attack, Director of National Intelligenceï¿½Dan Coatsï¿½said. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
OXON HILL, MD, UNITED STATES - 2018/02/22: John Bolton, Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) sponsored by the American Conservative Union held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 08: US Ambassador to United Nations John Bolton speaks at the National Oversight and Government Reform Committee on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on Capitol Hill on November 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. The annual conference is a meeting of politically conservatives Americans. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 29: Former United States ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on March 29, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Republican Jewish Coalition began its annual meeting with potential Republican presidential candidates in attendance, along with Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 24: Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The summit is hosting a group of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates to discuss core conservative principles ahead of the January 2016 Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 4: US President George W. Bush (R) and Ambassador to the UN John Bolton (L) meet in the Oval Office of the White House December 4, 2006 in Washington, DC. Bush accepted Bolton's resignation as Ambassador to the United Nations when his term is up in January 2007. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 03: Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas. More than 70,000 peope are expected to attend the NRA's 3-day annual meeting that features nearly 550 exhibitors, gun trade show and a political rally. The Show runs from May 3-5. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations (R) and Aaron Abramovitch, Director-General of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs attend a panel during the eighth annual Herzliya Conference in Herzliya, 22 January 2008. The eight annual Herzliya Conference, entitled Balance of Israel's National Security, and coordinated by the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya's Lauder School of Government, started yesterday and lasts for 3 days. The theme for this year's conference is 'Israel at 60: Tests of Endurance.' AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 14: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton addresses the Security Council after it unanimously voted in favor of the resolution for sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations headquarters October 14, 2006 in New York City. The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution which demands that North Korea destroy all of its nuclear weapons and bans the import and export of materials used for the creation of weapons of mass destruction. (Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
(FILES) A file picture dated 10 October 2006 shows former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaking to the media after a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and United States) plus Japan, where they discussed a resolution on the North Korea nuclear situation at the UN headquarters in New York. Bolton said 21 January 2008 that Israel may have to take military action to prevent its archfoe Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb. Bolton also said that further UN sanctions against the Islamic republic will be ineffective in stopping Iran's controversial nuclear programme which Israel and the US believe is aimed at developing a bomb -- a claim denied by Tehran. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED NATIONS, UNITED NATIONS: John Bolton (C), United States Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media 13 October 2006 before a Security Council meeting about Georgia, to be followed by discussions on the North Korea resolution at UN headquarters in New York. The UN Security Council on Friday was set to consider a compromise draft resolution mandating wide-ranging sanctions against North Korea over its declared nuclear test but specifically ruling out the use of force. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media after a meeting with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany concerning Iran at the French Mission to the UN November 13, 2006 in New York City. Bolton received a controversial recess appointment to the post by President Bush in August 2005 and was renominated last week, but would face confirmation from a new Democrat-controlled Senate if not voted on by the current Congress' recess in January. Democrats oppose the nomination. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, arrive to attend a briefing on election security in the White House press briefing room at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
HELSINKI, FINLAND JULY 16, 2018: US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr (C) and US National Security Adviser John Bolton (R) talking as Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump meet at the Presidential Palace. Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: National Security Advisor John Bolton, briefs the media on election interference, at the White House, on August 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. The administration's top security officials briefed the media on election interference. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Security Advisor John Bolton (R) attends a joint press conference of the US and Russian Presidents after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. - The US and Russian leaders opened an historic summit in Helsinki, with Donald Trump promising an 'extraordinary relationship' and Vladimir Putin saying it was high time to thrash out disputes around the world. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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On Wednesday the president said Bolton “wasn’t getting along” with other administration officials and brought up Bolton’s role in supporting the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush — an invasion Trump has described as a mistake (although also, at times, as a good idea).
“He was very out there, I can tell you, and wanting to have them do it, and I disagreed with that decision from the beginning,” Trump said, without explaining why he had picked Bolton as his national security adviser in the first place.
“Frankly he wanted to do things — not necessarily tougher than me,” Trump said. “John’s known as a tough guy. He’s so tough he got us into Iraq. That’s tough. But he’s somebody that I actually had a very good relationship with, but he wasn’t getting along with people in the administration who I consider very important.”
Trump added: “And you know John wasn’t in line with what we were doing. And actually in some cases he thought it was too tough, what we were doing. Mr. Tough Guy.”
The president said there are currently “five people I consider very qualified” to fill the vacancy left by Bolton’s departure, but he did not specify any names.
Trump added that he told Bolton he wished him well but couldn’t resist getting in one more dig at his former adviser.
“I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can do to spin it his way,” Trump said of Bolton.