Military Wiki
John Bolton
27th United States National Security Advisor

In office
April 9, 2018 – September 10, 2019
President Donald Trump
Deputy Nadia Schadlow
Ricky L. Waddell
Mira Ricardel
Charles Kupperman
Preceded by H. R. McMaster
Succeeded by Robert C. O'Brien
25th United States Ambassador to the United Nations

In office
August 2, 2005 – December 31, 2006
President George W. Bush
Preceded by John Danforth
Succeeded by Zalmay Khalilzad
3rd Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs

In office
May 11, 2001 – July 31, 2005
President George W. Bush
Preceded by John D. Holum
Succeeded by Robert Joseph
18th Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

In office
May 22, 1989 – January 20, 1993
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Richard S. Williamson
Succeeded by Douglas J. Bennet
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division

In office
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Richard K. Willard
Succeeded by Stuart M. Gerson
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs

In office
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Robert McConnell[1]
Succeeded by Thomas Boyd[2]
Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development for Program and Policy Coordination

In office
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Alexander Shakow[3]
Succeeded by Richard Derham[4]
Personal details
Born John Robert Bolton
November 20, 1948(1948-11-20) (age 74)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Christine Bolton (m. 1972–83)
Gretchen Smith
Children 1
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Flag of the United States Army (official proportions).svg United States Army
Years of service 1970–1976[5]
Unit United States Army Reserve
Maryland Army National Guard

John Robert Bolton (born November 20, 1948) is an American attorney, political commentator, Republican consultant, a former diplomat and national security advisor.

Bolton was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006 as a recess appointee by President George W. Bush.[6] He resigned at the end of his recess appointment in December 2006[7][8] because he was unlikely to win confirmation from the Senate, of which the Democratic Party had gained control at the time.[9][10] In later years, Bolton was the National Security Advisor of the United States under the Trump administration from April 2018 to September 2019.

Bolton is a former senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI),[11] and Fox News Channel commentator. He was a foreign policy adviser to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.[12] Bolton has been involved with numerous conservative organizations, including the anti-Muslim Gatestone Institute,[13] where he was the organization Chairman until March 2018,[14] and as a Director of the Project for the New American Century, which favored going to war with Iraq.

Bolton is a foreign policy hawk and is an advocate for regime change in Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen and North Korea.[15][16] He has also repeatedly called for the termination of the Iran nuclear deal. He was an advocate of the Iraq War and continues to support the decision to invade Iraq.[17] He has continuously supported military action and regime change in Syria, Libya, and Iran.[17][18] A Republican, his political views have been described as American nationalist,[19][20] conservative,[21][22][23][24] and neoconservative.[25] Bolton rejects the last term.[26][27][28]

Early life, education and early career

Bolton was born on November 20, 1948, in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Virginia Clara "Ginny" (née Godfrey), a housewife, and Edward Jackson "Jack" Bolton, a Baltimore City fireman.[29][30][31] He grew up in the working-class neighborhood of Yale Heights and won a scholarship to the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland, graduating in 1966.[29] He also ran the school's Students For Goldwater campaign in 1964.

Bolton attended Yale University, earning a B.A. and graduating summa cum laude in 1970. He was a member of the Yale Political Union. He attended Yale Law School from 1971 to 1974, where he shared classes with his friend Clarence Thomas, earning a J.D. in 1974.[32]

In 1972, Bolton was a summer intern for Vice President Spiro Agnew.[33][34] He was hired for the position by David Keene.[33]

Vietnam War

Bolton was a supporter of the Vietnam War, but purposely avoided military service in Vietnam.[29][35] During the 1969 Vietnam War draft lottery, Bolton drew number 185. (Draft numbers were assigned by birth date.)[36] As a result of the Johnson and Nixon administrations' decisions to rely largely on the draft rather than on the reserve forces, joining a Guard or Reserve unit became a way to avoid service in the Vietnam War.[37] Before graduating from Yale in 1970, Bolton enlisted in the Maryland Army National Guard rather than wait to find out if his draft number would be called.[38][39] The highest number called to military service was 195.[40] He saw active duty for 18 weeks of training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, from July to November 1970.[39] After serving in the National Guard for four years, he served in the United States Army Reserve until the end of his enlistment two years later.[5]

He wrote in his Yale 25th reunion book: "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost."[35] In a 2007 interview, Bolton explained his comment in the reunion book saying his decision to avoid service in Vietnam was because "by the time I was about to graduate in 1970, it was clear to me that opponents of the Vietnam War had made it certain we could not prevail, and that I had no great interest in going there to have Teddy Kennedy give it back to the people I might die to take it away from."[41][42][43]


From 1974 to 1981, Bolton was an associate at the Washington, D.C. office of Covington & Burling; he returned to the firm again from 1983 to 1985. Bolton was also a partner in the law firm of Lerner, Reed, Bolton & McManus, from 1993 to 1999.[44][45][46] He was of counsel in the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis from 2008 until his appointment as National Security Advisor in 2018.[47][48][49] In September 2015, Freedom Capital Investment Management appointed Bolton as a senior advisor.[50]

Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations

During the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, his governmental roles were within the State Department, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was a protégé of conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.[51]

His Justice Department position as an assistant attorney general required him to advance Reagan administration positions, including[52] opposition to financial reparations to Japanese-Americans held in World War II-era internment camps;[53] the insistence on Reagan's executive privilege during William Rehnquist's chief justice confirmation hearings, when Congress asked for memos written by Rehnquist as a Nixon Justice Department official;[54] shepherding the judicial nomination process for Antonin Scalia;[52] and the framing of a bill to control illegal immigration as an essential drug war measure.[52] He was also involved in the Iran–Contra affair.[55][56][57]

Bolton's government service included positions such as:

  • Assistant secretary for International Organization Affairs at the Department of State (1989–1993);
  • Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division (1988–1989);[58]
  • Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs, Department of Justice (1985–1988);[5]
  • Assistant administrator for program and policy coordination, USAID (1982–1983); and
  • General counsel, USAID (1981–1982).[44][45] While working for USAID, Lynne Finney, a legal adviser for the agency, alleged that Bolton threatened to fire her for refusing to lobby for the deregulation of baby formula in developing nations.[59]

Under Secretary of State (2001–2005)

Bolton joins Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in negotiations with Rumsfeld's Russian counterpart

Bolton worked as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, sworn into this position on May 11, 2001. In this role, a key area of his responsibility was the prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Bolton negotiated so-called "Article 98" agreements with countries to prohibit them from turning Americans over to the International Criminal Court, which is not recognized by the U.S.[60][61] Bolton said the decision to pull out of the ICC was the "happiest moment" of his political career to date.[60][62]

Weapons of mass destruction

Bolton was instrumental in derailing a 2001 biological weapons conference in Geneva convened to endorse a UN proposal to enforce the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. He argued that the plan would have jeopardized U.S. national security by allowing spot inspections of suspected U.S. weapons sites.[63]

In May 2002, Bolton gave a speech entitled "Beyond the Axis of Evil" in response to President Bush's State of the Union Address (where Bush characterized Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as part of an "Axis of Evil"). Bolton added three more nations to be grouped with the aforementioned rogue states: Cuba, Libya, and Syria. Bolton said they were all "state sponsors of terrorism that are pursuing or who have the potential to pursue weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or have the capability to do so in violation of their treaty obligations."[64] During his time as Under Secretary of State, Bolton "sought to block, and often succeeded in sabotaging" the negotiations that Secretary of State Colin Powell had conducted with North Korea[65]

Also in 2002, Bolton is said to have flown to Europe to demand the resignation of Brazilian José Bustani, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and to have orchestrated his removal at a special session of the organization.[66] Bustani was deemed to be an obstacle in creating the case for the invasion of Iraq.[67] The United Nations' highest administrative tribunal later condemned the action as an "unacceptable violation" of principles protecting international civil servants. Bustani had been unanimously re-elected for a four-year term—with strong U.S. support—in May 2000, and in 2001 was praised for his leadership by Colin Powell.[68] According to Bustani, John Bolton demanded that he step down in 24 hours, adding, "We know where your children are."[69]

He also pushed for reduced funding for the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program to halt the proliferation of nuclear materials.[70] At the same time, he was involved in the implementation of the Proliferation Security Initiative, working with a number of countries to intercept the trafficking in weapons of mass destruction and in materials for use in building nuclear weapons.[71]


According to an article in The New Republic, Bolton was highly successful in pushing his agenda, but his bluntness made him many enemies. "Iran's Foreign Ministry has called Bolton 'rude' and 'undiplomatic'."[72] In response to critics, Bolton says his record "demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy." Bush administration officials have stated that his past statements would allow him to negotiate from a powerful position. "It's like the Palestinians' having to negotiate with [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon. If you have a deal, you know you have a deal," an anonymous official told CNN.[73] He also "won widespread praise for his work establishing the Proliferation Security Initiative, a voluntary agreement supported (at the time) by 60 countries".[74]

Unsubstantiated claims about a Cuban WMD program

In 2002, Bolton delivered a speech at the Heritage Foundation where he accused Cuba of having a secret biological weapons program, and of collaborating with Libya and Iran.[46][75][76] Bolton asserted, "The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states."[76][77] Bolton made the remarks a week before former president Jimmy Carter was scheduled to meet Fidel Castro in Cuba, becoming the first U.S. President since the Cuban Revolution to visit Cuba in an effort to build bridges between the two countries.[76]

The State Department's chief bioweapons analyst refused to approve the accusation made in the speech, telling Bolton that the State Department did not have evidence to substantiate Bolton's accusation.[46][75][76][78] Subsequently, Bolton berated the analyst, unsuccessfully sought to fire him, began to exclude the analyst's supervisor from meetings, and tried to transfer the analyst to a different office.[46][75][76] Bolton was also alleged to have sought to punish other intelligence officers who refused to endorse his claims about Cuba.[70][76][79] Paul Pillar described Bolton's attempts to get the intelligence community to endorse his views as among the most egregious recent instances of "arm-twisting" the intelligence community,[78] while Columbia University international relations scholar Richard K. Betts described the reports about Bolton's pressure as "most blatant top-down pressure on intelligence" in the Bush administration.[80] Bolton claims the issue was procedural rather than related to the content of his speech and that the officers, who did not work under him, behaved unprofessionally.[75]

In April 2004, Bolton again accused Cuba of being a "terrorist and (biological weapons) threat to the United States."[81] Experts at the time disputed the veracity of Bolton's claims, saying the evidence in support of the claim was weak.[82] In September 2004 and in the wake of the failure to locate WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration backed off claims that Cuba had an active biological weapons program.[83]


Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman alleged that Bolton played a role in encouraging the inclusion of the statement that British Intelligence had determined Iraq attempted to procure yellowcake uranium from Niger in Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address.[84] These statements were claimed by critics of the President to be partly based on documents found to be forged.[85] Waxman's allegations could not be confirmed, as they were based on classified documents.[84]

Bolton stated in June 2004 congressional testimony that Iran was lying about enriched uranium contamination: "Another unmistakable indicator of Iran's intentions is the pattern of repeatedly lying to ... the IAEA ... when evidence of uranium enriched to 36 percent was found, it attributed this to contamination from imported centrifuge parts." However, later isotope analysis supported Iran's explanation of foreign contamination for most of the observed enriched uranium.[86] At their August 2005 meeting the IAEA's Board of Governors concluded: "Based on the information currently available to the Agency, the results of that analysis tend, on balance, to support Iran's statement about the foreign origin of most of the observed highly enriched uranium contamination."[87]

Bolton has often been accused of attempting to pressure the intelligence community to endorse his views.[78][88][89] According to former coworkers, Bolton withheld information that ran counter to his goals from Secretary of State Colin Powell on multiple occasions, and from Powell's successor Condoleezza Rice on at least one occasion.[89][90]

Ambassador to the United Nations (2005–2006)

President George W. Bush announces Bolton's nomination as U.S. ambassador to the UN. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looks on.

On March 7, 2005, Bolton was nominated to the post of United States Ambassador to the United Nations by President George W. Bush.[73][91] As a result of a Democratic filibuster, he was recess-appointed to the post on August 1, 2005. Bolton's nomination received strong support from Republicans but faced heavy opposition from Democrats due initially to concerns about his strongly expressed views on the United Nations.

Holding a 10–8 majority in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (tasked with vetting ambassadorial nominees), the Republican leadership hoped to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate with a positive recommendation. Concern among some Republicans on the committee, however, prompted the leadership to avoid losing such a motion and instead to send the nomination forward with no recommendation. In the full Senate, Republican support for the nomination remained uncertain, with the most vocal Republican critic, Ohio Senator George V. Voinovich, circulating a letter urging his Republican colleagues to oppose the nomination.[92] Democrats insisted that a vote on the nomination was premature, given the resistance of the White House to share classified documents related to Bolton's alleged actions. The Republican leadership moved on two occasions to end debate, but because a supermajority of 60 votes is needed to end debate, the leadership was unable to muster the required votes with only a 55–44 majority in the body. An earlier agreement between moderates in both parties to prevent filibustering of nominees was interpreted by the Democrats to relate only to judicial nominees,[93] not ambassadorships, although the leader of the effort, Sen. John McCain, said the spirit of the agreement was to include all nominees.

On November 9, 2006, Bush, only days after losing both houses to a Democratic majority, sent the nomination[94] for Bolton to continue as representative for the United States at the UN.[95] He said: "I believe that the leaders of both political parties must try to work through our differences. And I believe we will be able to work through differences. I reassured the House and Senate leaders that I intend to work with the new Congress in a bipartisan way to address issues confronting this country."[96]

Views on the United Nations

Ambassador Bolton briefing on "The Human Rights Commission and UN Management Reform" at the New York Foreign Press Center

Bolton has been a strong critic of the United Nations for much of his career.[97] Bolton's opposition to the UN was rooted in a disdain for international organizations, who he believed infringed on the sovereignty of the United States.[98][99] He also opposed the International Criminal Court.[98][99] In 1994, he stated, "There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along."[100]

He also stated that "The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."[101] When pressed on the statement during the confirmation process, he responded, "There's not a bureaucracy in the world that couldn't be made leaner."[102] In a paper on U.S. participation in the UN, Bolton stated "the United Nations can be a useful instrument in the conduct of American foreign policy."[103]

2005 nomination, Senate confirmation hearings

On April 11, 2005, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reviewed Bolton's qualifications. Bolton said he and his colleagues "view the U.N. as an important component of our diplomacy" and will work to solve its problems and enhance its strengths,[104] echoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's words from a month earlier.[105]

On the first day of the hearings, Republican committee chairman Richard Lugar criticized Bolton for ignoring the "policy consequences" of his statements, saying diplomatic speech "should never be undertaken simply to score international debating points to appeal to segments of the U.S. public opinion or to validate a personal point of view."[106] The committee's top Democrat, Joe Biden, compared sending Bolton to the UN to sending a "bull into a china shop," and expressed "grave concern" about Bolton's "diplomatic temperament" and his record: "In my judgment, your judgment about how to deal with the emerging threats have not been particularly useful," Biden said.[107] Republican Senator George Allen said Bolton had the "experience," "knowledge," "background," "and the right principles to come into the United Nations at this time," calling him "the absolute perfect person for the job."[108] Democratic Senator Russ Feingold asked Bolton about what he would have done had the Rwandan genocide occurred while he was ambassador to the United Nations, and criticized his answer—which focused on logistics—as "amazingly passive."[109]

On the second day, April 12, 2005, the Senate panel focused on allegations discussed above that Bolton pressured intelligence analysts. Calling Bolton a "serial abuser", former State Department intelligence chief Carl W. Ford Jr. said, "I've never seen anybody quite like Secretary Bolton ... I don't have a second, third or fourth in terms of the way that he abuses his power and authority with little people." Ford contradicted Bolton's earlier testimony, saying: "I had been asked for the first time to fire an intelligence analyst for what he had said and done." Ford also characterized Bolton as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy", implying that he was always ready to please whoever had authority over him, while having very little regard for people working under him.[110]

Lugar, who criticized Bolton at his April 11 hearing, said the "paramount issue" was supporting Bush's nominee. He conceded that "bluntness ... may be required", even though it is not "very good diplomacy".[111] Chafee, the key member for Bolton's approval, said "the bar is very high" for rejecting the president's nominees, suggesting that Bolton would make it to the Senate.[112]

On April 19, Democrats, with support from Voinovich, forced Lugar to delay the committee vote on Bolton's nomination until May. The debate concerning his nomination raged in the Senate prior to the Memorial Day recess. Two other Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee, Chafee and Chuck Hagel, also expressed serious concerns about the Bolton nomination.[113] Asked on April 20 if he was now less inclined to support the nomination, Chafee said, "That would be accurate." He elaborated that Bolton's prospects were "hard to predict" but said he expected that "the administration is really going to put some pressure on Senator Voinovich. Then it comes to the rest of us [who] have had some reservations."[113]

On April 20, it emerged that Melody Townsel, a former USAID contractor, had reported to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton had used inflammatory language and thrown objects in the course of her work activities in Moscow. Townsel's encounter with Bolton occurred when she served as a whistleblower against a poorly performing minority contractor for USAID, IBTCI. Townsel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff that Bolton had made derogatory remarks about her sexual orientation and weight, among other workplace improprieties. In an official interview with Senate Foreign Relation Committee staff, Townsel detailed her accusations against Bolton, which were confirmed by Canadian designer Uno Ramat, who had served as an IBTCI employee and one of Townsel's AID colleagues. Time magazine, among other publications, verified Townsel's accusations and Ramat's supporting testimony, and Townsel's story was transcribed and entered into the official Senate committee record. Townsel, who was an employee of Young & Rubicam at the time of her encounter with Bolton, continued working for the company on a variety of other USAID projects.[114][115][116]

On April 22, The New York Times and other media reported that Bolton's former boss, Colin Powell, personally opposed the nomination and had been in personal contact with Chafee and Hagel. The same day, Reuters reported that a spokesman for Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) had said the Senator felt the committee "did the right thing delaying the vote on Bolton in light of the recent information presented to the committee."[117]

Also on May 11, Newsweek reported allegations that the American position at the 7th Review Conference in May 2005[118] of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty had been undercut by Bolton's "absence without leave" during the nomination fight, quoting anonymous sources "close to the negotiations".[119]

Democrats' filibuster

On May 26, 2005, Senate Democrats postponed the vote on Bolton's UN nomination. The Republican leadership failed to gain enough support to pass a cloture motion on the floor debate over Bolton, and minority leader Harry Reid conceded the move signaled the "first filibuster of the year." The Democrats claimed that key documents regarding Bolton and his career at the Department of State were being withheld by the Bush administration. Scott McClellan, White House press secretary, responded by saying, "Just 72 hours after all the good will and bipartisanship (over a deal on judicial nominees), it's disappointing to see the Democratic leadership resort back to such a partisan approach."[120]

The failure of the Senate to end debate on Bolton's nomination provided one surprise for some: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) voted against cloture for procedural reasons, so he could bring up a cloture vote in the future.[citation needed] (Although Voinovich once spoke against confirming Bolton, he voted for cloture.) Senator John Thune (R-SD) voted to end debate but announced that he would vote against Bolton in the up-or-down vote as a protest against the government's plans to close a military base (Ellsworth) in his home state.

On June 20, 2005, the Senate voted again on cloture. The vote failed 54–38, six votes short of ending debate. That marked an increase of two "no" votes, including the defection of Voinovich, who switched his previous "yes" vote and urged President Bush to pick another nominee (Democrats Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson voted to end debate both times). On June 21, Frist expressed his view that attempting another vote would be pointless, but later that day, following a lunch at the White House, changed his position, saying he would continue to push for an up-or-down vote.[citation needed] Voinovich later recanted his opposition and stated that if Bolton were renominated he would have supported the nomination.[121]

Accusations of false statement

On July 28, 2005, it was revealed that a statement made by Bolton on forms submitted to the Senate was false. Bolton indicated that in the prior five years he had not been questioned in any investigation, but in fact he had been interviewed by the State Department's Inspector General as part of an investigation into the sources of pre-war claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. After insisting for weeks that Bolton had testified truthfully on the form, the State Department reversed itself, saying Bolton had simply forgotten about the investigation.[122]

Recess appointment

On August 1, 2005, Bush officially made a recess appointment of Bolton, installing him as Permanent U.S. Representative to the UN. A recess appointment lasts until the next session of Congress ends or until the individual is renominated and confirmed by the Senate. During the announcement, Bush said, "This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform."[123] Democrats criticized the appointment, and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Bolton would lack credibility in the U.N. because he lacked Senate confirmation.[124] U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed Mr. Bolton, but told reporters that the new ambassador should consult with others as the administration continued to press for changes at the United Nations.[125]

Term at the UN

The Economist called Bolton "the most controversial ambassador ever sent by America to the United Nations." Some colleagues in the UN appreciated the goals Bolton was trying to achieve, but not his abrasive style.[126][127] The New York Times, in its editorial The Shame of the United Nations, praised Bolton's stance on "reforming the disgraceful United Nations Human Rights Commission",[128] saying "John Bolton, is right; Secretary-General Kofi Annan is wrong." The Times also said the commission at that time was composed of "some of the world's most abusive regimes" who used their membership as cover to continue their abusiveness.

Bolton also opposed the proposed replacement for the Human Rights Commission, the UN Human Rights Council, as not going far enough for reform, saying: "We want a butterfly. We don't intend to put lipstick on a caterpillar and call it a success."[129]

2006 nomination

Bush announced his intention to renominate Bolton for confirmation as U.N. ambassador at the beginning of 2006, and a new confirmation hearing was held on July 27, 2006, in the hope of completing the process before the expiration of Bolton's recess appointment at the end of the 109th Congress.[130] Voinovich, who had previously stood in opposition to Bolton, had amended his views and determined that Bolton was doing a "good job" as UN ambassador; in February 2006, he said "I spend a lot of time with John on the phone. I think he is really working very constructively to move forward."[131]

Over the summer and during the fall election campaign, no action was taken on the nomination because Chafee, who was in a difficult re-election campaign, blocked a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote.[citation needed] Without his concurrence, the SFRC would have been deadlocked 9–9, and the nomination could not have gone to the Senate floor for a full vote. Bush formally resubmitted the nomination on November 9, 2006, immediately following a midterm election that would give control of the 110th Congress to the Democratic party.[132] Chafee, who had just lost his re-election bid, issued a statement saying he would vote against recommending Bolton for a Senate vote, citing what he considered to be a mandate from the recent election results: "On Tuesday, the American people sent a clear message of dissatisfaction with the foreign policy approach of the Bush administration. To confirm Mr. Bolton to the position of U.N. ambassador would fly in the face of the clear consensus of the country that a new direction is called for."[133]

Termination of service

On December 4, 2006, Bolton announced that he would terminate his work as U.S. representative to the UN at the end of the recess appointment and would not continue to seek confirmation.[134] His letter of resignation from the Bush administration was accepted on December 4, 2006, effective when his recess appointment ended December 9 at the formal adjournment of the 109th Congress.

The announcement was characterized as Bolton's "resignation" by the Associated Press,[135] United Press International,[136] ABC News,[137] and other news sources, as well as a White House press release[8] and President Bush himself.[138] The White House, however, later objected to the use of this language. Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino told CBS News "it is not a resignation."[139] The actual language of the President's written acceptance was: "It is with deep regret that I accept John Bolton's decision to end his service in the administration as permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations when his commission expires." However, at press conference, the president said, "I received the resignation of Ambassador John Bolton. I accept it. I'm not happy about it. I think he deserved to be confirmed."[138] Some news organizations subsequently altered their language to phrases such as "to step down," "to leave," or "to exit."[140][141][142]

John Bolton in 2008

Support for Bolton

During his confirmation hearings in 2005, letters with signatures of more than 64 co-workers and professional colleagues were sent to Senator Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in praise of Bolton and contradicting other criticisms and allegations concerning his diplomatic style and his treatment of colleagues and staff.[143]

In late 2006, when his nomination was again before the Committee, another letter signed by professional colleagues supporting the renomination was sent to Senator Lugar.[144] A Wall Street Journal op ed by Claudia Rosett on December 5, 2006, said in part, "Bolton has been valiant in his efforts to clean up UN corruption and malfeasance, and follow UN procedure in dealing with such threats as a nuclear North Korea, a Hezbollah bid to take over Lebanon, and the nuclearization of Hezbollah's terror-masters in Iran. But it has been like watching one man trying to move a tsunami of mud."[citation needed]

National Security Advisor (2018–2019)

May 2, 2018: (from left) Bolton, Mike Pompeo, President Trump, Vice President Pence

Speculation on position (2016–2017)

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt during the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Republican nominee Donald Trump named Bolton as a possible choice for Secretary of State. Appearing on Fox News' Fox and Friends on December 1, 2016, Bolton admitted he was being considered as a Secretary of State candidate for the incoming Trump administration.[145][146] Several Trump associates claim Bolton was not chosen, in part, due to Trump's disdain for Bolton's signature mustache.[147]

The evening of December 10, the BBC cited NBC reports that "sources close to Mr Trump [were] ... saying that Mr Tillerson is likely to be named next week" and that former UN ambassador John Bolton "will serve as his deputy".[148]

Bolton has supported theories about the health of Hillary Clinton and about her aide Huma Abedin, and in December 2016, Bolton said the conclusion of the United States Intelligence Community that Russian hackers had intervened to help elect Donald Trump in 2016 may have been a "false flag" operation.[149] In a subsequent interview on Fox News, Bolton criticized the Obama administration's retaliatory sanctions as insufficient and suggested that the US response should "make them [the Russians] feel pain".[150][151]


President Trump interviewed Bolton and three others to determine who would fill the position of National Security Advisor vacated by Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.[152][153] The position ultimately went to H. R. McMaster.[154] Trump "made a point on Monday of praising Mr. Bolton and saying that he would find a position for him in his administration eventually."[155] Bolton was seen at the White House on the evening of March 6, 2018, presumably to be interviewed as a candidate for national security adviser.[156]

U.S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis greets the National Security Advisor-designate Bolton at the Pentagon in March 2018

The New York Times reported on March 22, 2018, that John Bolton would replace National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, which was confirmed by Trump in a tweet later that day. Bolton began his position as National Security Advisor on April 9, 2018.[157][158] The New York Times wrote that the rise of Bolton and Mike Pompeo, coupled with the departure of Rex Tillerson and General McMaster, meant Trump's foreign policy team was now "the most radically aggressive foreign policy team around the American president in modern memory", and compared it to the foreign policy team surrounding George W. Bush, notably with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.[159]

On April 10, 2018, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert resigned at Bolton's request,[160] and Bolton said he is considering a merger of the NSC with the Homeland Security Council.[161] During his first week in office Bolton requested and obtained the resignations of multiple National Security Council employees including NSC spokesman Michael Anton (April 8), deputy national security adviser Nadia Schadlow (April 10), and deputy national security adviser Ricky L. Waddell (April 12).[161] CNN reported in September 2018 that Bolton had significantly shrunk the number of NSC personnel, cutting it to under 300.[162][163]

December 26, 2018: Bolton and President Trump on the phone with Iraq Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi during visit to U.S. troops

On September 10, 2018, in his first major address as National Security Advisor, Bolton criticized the International Criminal Court, saying it lacks checks and balances, exercises "jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed and ambiguous definitions," and has failed to "deter and punish atrocity crimes." Calling the ICC a threat to "American sovereignty and U.S. national security," Bolton said it is "superfluous," given that "domestic judicial systems already hold American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards." He added that the U.S. would do everything "to protect our citizens" should the ICC attempt to prosecute U.S. servicemen over alleged detainee abuse in Afghanistan, and it would bar ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the U.S. and sanction their funds. He also criticized Palestinian efforts to bring Israel before the ICC over allegations of human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.[164][165][166]

In 2018, Bolton requested that the Pentagon provide the White House with options for military strikes against Iran. According to the New York Times, Bolton "intensified the administration's policy of isolating and pressuring Iran — reflecting an animus against Iran's leaders that dates back to his days as an official in the George W. Bush administration. As a private citizen, he later called for military strikes on Iran, as well as regime change."[167]

As national security advisor, Bolton eliminated the kinds of internal policy debates that his predecessor H. R. McMaster had in place. The New York Times writes that this change in practices contributed to Trump's sudden and erratic decision to withdraw the United States from Syria in January 2019.[168]

As National Security Advisor, Bolton advanced policies skeptical and hostile toward international organizations.[169] By his first year as National Security Advisor, Bolton had reshaped the National Security Council and become influential within the Trump Administration.[170][171][172]

By May 2019, Trump had undercut some of Bolton's major hard line positions, stating he was not seeking regime change in Iran and contradicting Bolton's correct assertion that North Korea had recently violated United Nations resolutions by testing new short-range missiles.[173] As Trump prepared for his historic meeting with Kim Jong-un in the Korean Demilitarized Zone in June 2019, Bolton flew to Mongolia.[174]

On September 10, 2019, President Trump claimed on Twitter that he had told Bolton on September 9 his "services are no longer needed" given "many" disagreements with Trump, thus Bolton gave his resignation on September 10. Just minutes later, Bolton contradicted Trump's account, tweeting out this claim: Bolton offered to resign on September 9, with Trump replying: "Let's talk about it tomorrow." Bolton later told the media Trump "never asked" for his resignation "directly or indirectly", and that he had both offered to resign and actually resigned of his own accord. Meanwhile, the White House endorsed Trump's version of the events.[175][176]

After Bolton's departure, Trump claimed that Bolton's views were "not necessarily tougher" than his own: "in some cases, he thought it was too tough what we were doing". On Cuba and Venezuela, Trump claimed that his own views were "far stronger" than Bolton's: "He was holding me back!" Bolton himself was known for his hawkish positions, including on Cuba and Venezuela, while Trump previously in May 2019 offered a different view of Bolton: "I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing."[177][178]

Trump–Ukraine scandal

Following Bolton's departure, Fiona Hill, who served as the National Security Council's senior director for Europe and Russia, testified before a Congressional committee that Bolton had disassociated himself from what he viewed the Trump administration's effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating the president's political rivals.[179]

Bolton failed to attend his scheduled deposition November 7, 2019, saying he wanted a federal court to first rule on a lawsuit by his former deputy seeking a court ruling on the competing claims of the Trump administration and Congress.[180][181][182]

Punditry and conservative activism

Bolton was executive director of the Committee on Resolutions in the Republican National Committee from 1983 to 1984.[183]

Between 1997 and 2000, Bolton worked as an assistant to James Baker when he was the UN Secretary-General envoy to the Western Sahara.[184] Since 2006, he has been a paid Fox News contributor and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.[48][49] For 2017, he reported an income of $569,000 from Fox News.[185] Bolton was a contributor to The Weekly Standard, an American conservative opinion magazine, from 1997 to 2000, and again from 2014 to 2016.[186]

Bolton speaks at Chatham House on foreign policy challenges facing the Obama Administration

From 2013 until March 2018, Bolton was chairman of the far-right anti-Muslim Gatestone Institute, which is prominent for disseminating false anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim information.[14] In 2018, the White House reported that Bolton's total income for 2017 had been $2.2 million which included $569,000 from Fox News and $747,000 in speaking fees from, among others, the Victor Pinchuk Foundation (a Ukrainian NGO), Deutsche Bank, and HSBC.[185]

2012 presidential election

Bolton considered running for president in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. He received attention in conservative circles, including the cover of the December 31, 2010 issue of National Review magazine. He told Politico: "As I survey the situation, I think the Republican field is wide open. I don't think the party's anywhere close to a decision. And stranger things have happened. For example, inexperienced senators from Illinois have gotten presidential nominations."[187] In September 2011, Bolton said he would not run for president in 2012.[188]

During the Republican primary, Republican presidential-hopeful Newt Gingrich said he would ask Bolton to serve as his Secretary of State.[189] In January 2012, Bolton endorsed Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican Nomination.[190]

American Enterprise Institute

Bolton was senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank,[191] from 1997 to 2001. At the time, he frequently wrote columns criticizing the Clinton administration's foreign policy. Bolton said Clinton's policy on Iraq was "worse than incompetent", his policy on North Korea was "egregiously wrong", and his Libya policy was a "catastrophic loss of U.S. credibility."[61]

After leaving the George W. Bush Administration in 2006, Bolton returned to the American Enterprise Institute as a Senior Fellow. From 2010 until 2018, Bolton served as Director, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies for AEI.[191] In Bolton's time at the American Enterprise Institute, he spoke against the policy of rewarding North Korea for ending its nuclear weapons program. He said the policy would encourage others to violate nuclear non-proliferation rules so they could then be rewarded for following the rules they'd already agreed to.[192]

In July 2013, Bolton was identified as a key member of Groundswell, a secretive coalition of right-wing activists and journalists attempting to advance political change behind the scenes through lobbying of high-level contacts.[193]

John Bolton Super PAC

In 2013, Bolton set up the John Bolton Super PAC. It raised $11.3 million for Republican candidates in the 2014 and 2016 elections and spent $5.6 million, paying Cambridge Analytica at least $650,000 for voter data analysis and digital video ad targeting in support of the campaigns of Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and of former U.S. Senator (R-MA) Scott Brown's unsuccessful 2014 bid for a U.S. Senate seat for New Hampshire.[194][195][196] In September 2016, Bolton announced that his Super PAC would spend $1 million on (R-N.C.) Senator Richard Burr's reelection effort by targeting ads at "social media users and Dish Network and Direct TV subscribers".[197]

The Center for Public Integrity analysed the John Bolton Super PAC's campaign finance filings and found that they had paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1.1 million since 2014 for "research" and "survey research".[198] According to Federal Election Commission filings, Cambridge Analytica was paid more than $811,000 by them in the 2016 presidential election;[199] in the same election cycle, the Super PAC spent around $2.5 million in support of Republican U.S. Senate candidates.[198]

Bolton said he aims to raise and spend $25 million for up to 90 Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.[200] In January 2018, Bolton announced a $1 million advertising campaign in support of Kevin Nicholson's bid for the Republican nomimation to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.[200][201] The Super PAC ran an ad campaign in the Green Bay area in January 2018; on March 19, 2018, the Super PAC announced a two-week $278,000 television and radio ad campaign in the Milwaukee area.[202]

Major donors to the John Bolton Super PAC are Robert Mercer, who gave $4 million from 2012 to 2016; Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, and Los Angeles real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer.[194]

After Bolton was appointed National Security Advisor in March 2018, the John Bolton Super PAC and the John Bolton PAC announced that their political activities were suspended temporarily, effective March 31, 2018. The Super PAC's FEC filings showed a balance of $2.6 million in unspent donations at the end of March 2018.[203][204]

Political positions

Bolton, President Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, 2018

Bolton with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in September 2018

He declared himself in an interview with Edward Luce of the Financial Times in 2007 to be a "Goldwater conservative", as opposed to being a neoconservative.[205] He also pointed out that he was a follower of Edmund Burke. He also said "I have always been a conservative. The idea of big-government conservatism has more neocon adherents than from unmodified conservatives."

Unilateralism and Americanism

Americanism is Bolton's core belief, according to The New York Times:

Long before Mr. Trump popularized his "America First" slogan, Mr. Bolton termed himself an "Americanist" who prioritized a cold-eyed view of national interests and sovereignty over what they both saw as a starry-eyed fixation on democracy promotion and human rights. They shared a deep skepticism of globalism and multilateralism, a commonality that empowered Mr. Bolton to use his time in the White House to orchestrate the withdrawal of the United States from arms control treaties and other international agreements.[206]

Bolton is skeptical of international organizations and international law, believing them to endanger American sovereignty, and does not believe they have legitimate authority under the U.S. Constitution.[207][208] He criticized the Obama administration's foreign policy for what he perceived as surrendering U.S. sovereignty.[209] He also prefers unilateralism over multilateralism.[207] In a 2000 article in the Chicago Journal of International Law, Bolton described himself as a "convinced Americanist", favoring it over what he described as "globalism".[210] In his roles in the U.S. government, however, Bolton has been more pragmatic in his actions toward international organizations,[211] though according to Foreign Policy, he effectively advanced his views on this subject during his tenure in the Trump Administration.[169]

Bolton has criticized the International Criminal Court, seeing it as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.[212] Bolton said: "If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly. We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system."[213]

European Union

Bolton is a critic of the European Union. In his book Surrender Is Not an Option, he criticized the EU for pursuing "the endless process of diplomatic mastication" rather than satisfactorily solving problems, and he labeled the organization's diplomats as "EUroids".[214] He has also criticized the EU for advancing what he considers liberal policies.[215] Bolton campaigned in Ireland against further EU integration in 2008, and he criticized the Treaty of Lisbon for expanding EU powers.[216] In 2016, Bolton praised the UK's referendum vote to leave the EU,[217] and Axios reported in January 2019 that Bolton continued to advocate for a hard Brexit as National Security Advisor.[218] In a March 2019 interview with Sky News, Bolton criticized the UK "political class" for not implementing the Brexit vote.[219]

Bolton, President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, December 1, 2018


Bolton opposed the deal that George W. Bush made with then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to eliminate the country's weapons of mass destruction program.[25] He was in a key role during initial negotiations but his role became limited over time. According to a 2005 study, Bolton was intentionally kept out of the loop so a final agreement could be reached: "Bolton reportedly was unaware of the December 19 WMD agreement until very shortly before its public announcement. And after initially being given a lead role in implementing it, he pushed so hard to backtrack from the agreement that the British convinced the Bush administration to restrict his involvement in the Libya matter."[25]

Bolton supported the NATO-led military intervention in Libya that toppled the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.[220][221]


Bolton is regarded to be an "architect" of the Iraq War.[222][223][224] In 1998, he was a signatory to a letter sent to President Bill Clinton urging him to remove Saddam Hussein from power using U.S. diplomatic, political and military power.[225] He supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein and continued to stand by his support of the invasion by 2018.[226][227] In 2007, Bolton said the only mistake the United States made with regard to Iraq was to not leave earlier after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and tell the Iraqis "Here's a copy of the Federalist Papers. Good luck."[228]


During 2008, Bolton opposed the declaration of independence by Kosovo.[229] In 2018 he said, "US policy is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don't exclude territorial adjustments," and that the US or Europe would not "stand in the way if the two parties to the dispute reached a mutually satisfactory settlement."[229]


Bolton with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in August 2018

President Trump, joined by Bolton and Netanyahu behind, signs the proclamation recognizing Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, March 25, 2019

Bolton is known for his strong support for Israel.[230][231] Bolton opposes the two-state solution of creating an independent Palestinian state alongside the existing state of Israel.[232] Bolton supported moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in accordance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act,[233] and he testified in front of Congress in 2017 on the matter.[234] In 2010, Bolton co-founded the Friends of Israel Initiative with 12 other international figures.[235]

North Korea and Iran

Bolton has advocated for pre-emptive strikes against North Korea and Iran. In March 2018, he suggested that South Korea take North Korea and terminate the North Korean regime as the only "diplomatic option", and said that the war between the two countries is their problem and not the US problem.[236]

In 2008, Bolton said: "The idea here is not to have much larger hostilities, but to stop the Iranians from engaging in the hostilities that they're already doing against us inside Iraq. And they're doing much the same by aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan. So this is not provocative or preemptive, this is entirely responsive on our part."[236] In 2018, Bolton stated: "Russia, China, Syria, Iran, North Korea. These are regimes that make agreements and lie about them. A national security policy that is based on the faith that regimes like that will honor their commitments is doomed to failure."[237] He also said, "Our goal should be regime change in Iran."[232] The New Yorker, described the people who have worked with Bolton as saying "he is focused less on North Korea than on Iran". H. R. McMaster has reportedly told Dexter Fikins that Bolton has had "[the] anal focus on Iran for twenty years".[238]

Speaking to a meeting of Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalq in March 2018, Bolton said the Trump administration should follow the goal of regime change in Iran and that "before 2019, we here ... will celebrate in Iran." Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recounted the prediction by describing the U.S. official making the prediction as a "first class idiot", without naming anyone.[239]

People's Mujahedin of Iran

Prior to it being de-listed by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2012, Bolton spoke in favor of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK), in at least one case being paid to do so. MEK has a long anti-American history.[240][241][242] According to the State Department, the MEK "[f]ollow[s] a philosophy that mixes Marxism and Islam."[242]

On January 25, 2011, Bolton drew a standing ovation at a MEK conference in Brussels for his support of the MEK, giving a speech in which he "backed MEK's legitimacy, and the notion of removing it from the list of terrorist organizations".[243]

According to his financial disclosure, he was given $40,000 for his 2016 speech to MEK.[238]

In May 2018, Joanne Stocker, a journalist and researcher studying the MEK, told Richard Engel of MSNBC that she estimates Bolton was paid "on the low-end, $180,000". Bolton's office has refused to comment on the matter.[244]

According to the 5 U.S.C. app. § 101-required 'US Public Financial Disclosure Report' (2018) for Bolton, released by Al-Monitor, he has received $40,000 of speaking fee for "Global Events–European Iranian Events" on June 1, 2017,[245] the same day he made a speech for the MEK in a gathering in Paris, France.[246]


Bolton meets with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu in Moscow in October 2018

In 2013, after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had been granted asylum in Russia, Bolton said: "I think in order to focus Putin's thinking, we need to do things that cause him pain as well. And while I know that not having a chance to have a bilateral meeting with his buddy Barack Obama will cause Putin to lose sleep, it's not damaging Russian interests."[237]

Russian Senator Aleksey Pushkov, former chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, said after Bolton's appointment: "Bolton, along with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, was an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq. A supporter of jihadists for the sake of overthrowing [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad]. A great specialist in interventions and aggression, and adept at the use of force. McMaster is a general. Bolton is the ideologue of a new cold war, a convinced opponent of Russia."[247]

In a June 2017 article entitled "Vladimir Putin looked Trump in the eye and lied to him. We negotiate with Russia at our peril," Bolton called Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections "a true act of war."[248] As Trump's national security advisor in July 2018, Bolton referred to the investigation into the Russian interference as "the Russia witch hunt.".[249]


Bolton, President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Osaka, June 28, 2019

In 2018, Bolton criticized Washington's One-China policy, under which Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, is not recognized as an independent nation, with recognition being given only to the People's Republic of China.[230]

On China's notoriety in intellectual property matters, he remarked in 2018 that "There's simply no excuse for the stealing of intellectual property, forced technology transfers it's sometimes called."[230]

Bolton said in October 2018 that the United States' need to counter a Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific, including within South China Sea, was one of the reasons for their move to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, because China is not a signatory to the treaty.[250][251]

Latin America

Bolton with Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro in November 2018

In a speech as National Security Advisor on November 1, 2018, Bolton praised Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro and Colombia's president Iván Duque Márquez, both right-wing conservatives, calling them "like-minded" partners. In the speech, he also framed Bolsonaro's election victory as a "positive sign" for Latin America, and he criticized Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua as a "troika of tyranny."[252][253][254][255]

Criticism of the Obama administration

In December 2012, Bolton suggested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had faked a concussion to avoid testifying before Congress regarding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Bolton stated "When you don't want to go to a meeting or conference or an event you have a 'diplomatic illness'. And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band."[256][257][258]

In 2010, he wrote a foreword for the book The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America, authored by far-right anti-Muslim commentators Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.[259][260] Bolton endorsed their book, writing: "This book carries forward the ongoing and increasingly widespread critique of Barack Obama as our first post-American president. What it recounts is disturbing, and its broader implications are more disturbing still."[261]

Personal life

Bolton is married to Gretchen Smith Bolton, a financial planner with AXA Advisors. Together they have a daughter, Jennifer, and reside in Bethesda, Maryland.[262] He is a Lutheran.[263]


  • Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations, Threshold Editions, ISBN 1416552847
  • How Barack Obama Is Endangering Our National Sovereignty, Encounter Books, ISBN 978-1594034916

See also

  • Rudy Giuliani


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