The Trump White House has long been a place of internal strife, from the early days of Steve Bannon versus everyone else, to the daily sparring of John Kelly and his boss, to the current conflict between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. According to a new report from CNN, Pompeo is frustrated by Bolton overstepping his role and circumventing the usual policy-making processes.
Since becoming national security adviser in April 2018, Bolton has hosted fewer “principals meetings” involving high-level Cabinet officials and has pursued shorter, more informal briefs with the president and his staff. Generally, he has reengineered his role “into a decision-making perch instead of a position meant to funnel information to the President,” per CNN.
At times, that’s left other top-ranking officials, including Pompeo, feeling excluded and out of the loop.
During a recent debate over how to handle North Korea, Bolton left Pompeo off messages he sent to the CIA that included a list of questions he wanted answered, according to a source in the intelligence community.
That infuriated Pompeo, who as secretary of state has led negotiations with the North Koreans. In its replies to Bolton, the CIA started sharing information with both Bolton and Pompeo.
Bolton is also reportedly holding meetings at the CIA headquarters as an easy way to keep State Department staffers from attending. One source told CNN that “John Bolton is playing secretary of State.”
Pompeo and Bolton agree on foreign policy in broad strokes and are separated mostly by degrees of hawkishness. For example, Pompeo wants to put pressure on the Iranian government, while Bolton has long been an advocate for regime change in Tehran. But the two diverge in their approach to sharing information. While Pompeo tends to be careful in his media appearances, Bolton is happy to put himself at the forefront of policy debates on television and on Twitter, to the consternation of his counterpart at State. Bolton will also attempt to use lawmakers to forward his policy goals, reportedly sending staff to the Hill in advance of representatives’ meetings with Trump, hoping they will rebroadcast an idea of his in their sessions with the president.
Not only is Bolton’s jockeying causing open conflict with Pompeo in national security meetings, Trump also appears to be frustrated by his unconventional adviser. The president reportedly said that he felt undermined by Bolton on North Korea, and that Bolton is pushing a “war agenda” on Iran, when he would prefer diplomatic talks. Naturally, the president also doesn’t like his adviser’s public-facing role. Bolton’s Twitter presence and media appearances are not “appreciated by the president,” a source close to Bolton told CNN. “He wants it to be all about him.”