President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton claims to have privately told Attorney General William Barr last year that he was concerned the President was granting favors to the autocratic leaders of China and Turkey, The New York Times reported Monday, citing multiple people’s descriptions of an unpublished draft manuscript by Bolton.
Barr told Bolton in response that he worried Trump had created the appearance of undue influence over two Justice Department investigations of companies in China and Turkey, which are traditionally independent inquiries, the draft manuscript says, according to the Times.
To make his point, Barr made specific reference to Trump’s conversations with President Xi Jinping of China about Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, which agreed to pay fines in 2017 for violating US sanctions on doing business with Iran, North Korea and other countries, Bolton wrote, according to the Times. In 2018, the Trump administration reached a deal with ZTE to lift the ban in exchange for a series of other punishments, including the company overhauling its top management, bringing in an American monitoring team and paying a $1 billion fine.
Bolton also claims, the Times reported, that Barr cited Trump’s comments to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2018 about an investigation into the state-owned Turkish bank Halkbank — though ultimately the Justice Department charged the bank with “fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.”
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said Monday night it had not reviewed the manuscript, but the Times’ “account of this conversation grossly mischaracterizes what Attorney General Barr and Mr. Bolton discussed. There was no discussion of ‘personal favors’ or ‘undue influence’ on investigations, nor did Attorney General Barr state that the President’s conversations with foreign leaders was improper.”
“If this is truly what Mr. Bolton has written, then it seems he is attributing to Attorney General Barr his own current views — views with which Attorney General Barr does not agree,” Kerri Kupec, the spokeswoman, said.
The newly purported revelations in Bolton’s unpublished draft manuscript come the day after a New York Times report citing the same manuscript detailed how, according to Bolton, Trump said he wanted to continue holding military aid to Ukraine until the country helped with investigations into Democrats — including former Vice President Joe Biden.
A source with direct knowledge of the manuscript told CNN that The New York Times’ telling of Bolton’s account of the discussion with Trump about the hold on the Ukraine aid is accurate.
Trump’s purported statement, as described by Bolton, would directly tie the freeze on US military aid to the President’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his political rivals — undermining a key pillar of Trump’s impeachment defense that the two circumstances are unrelated.