Donald Trump sought Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s help to win the 2020 presidential election during a private meeting, former national security adviser John Bolton has claimed.
The allegation was among a series of bombshell claims made in a new book by Mr Bolton, who the US president fired in September after 17 months in the White House job.
According to an excerpt published in the New York Times, Mr Trump also expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations to give “personal favours to dictators he liked”.
And the former official said the US leader was so keen to pander to his Chinese counterpart that he told Mr Xi he “should go ahead” with building internment camps for Uighurs, which has been subject to widespread international condemnation.
Another anecdote in the book focuses on a meeting with then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018.
Mr Bolton said a British official referred to the United Kingdom as a “nuclear power”, but that Mr Trump interjected, saying: “Oh, are you a nuclear power?”
Mr Bolton added that he could tell the question about the UK, which has long maintained a nuclear arsenal, “was not intended as a joke.”
A separate claim sees Mr Bolton recall Mr Trump asking if Finland is part of Russia.
The White House has yet to respond the claims.
Mr Bolton said Mr Trump’s effort to shift the June 2019 conversation with Mr Xi to the US election was among innumerable conversations that “formed a pattern of fundamentally unacceptable behaviour that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency”.
The former official said that because staff had served him so poorly in general, Mr Trump “saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government”.
On the meeting with the Chinese president in Osaka, Japan, Mr Bolton wrote that Mr Trump told Mr Xi that Democrats were hostile to China.
“He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Mr Bolton said.
“He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”
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Mr Bolton describes every Trump decision as being guided by concerns for his own re-election, a claim that evokes the scandal that sparked Mr Trump’s impeachment last year.
According to excerpts published in the Washington Post, Mr Bolton claims Mr Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool” and that it was “really part of the United States.”
The US government has publicly said it does not back the use of force to topple Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
At a White House Christmas dinner in 2018, Mr Bolton wrote that Mr Trump asked why the US was sanctioning China over its treatment of Uighurs.
China suspects Uighurs, who are predominantly Muslim and culturally and ethnically distinct from the majority Han Chinese population, of seeking to form a separate state.
Beijing has dramatically escalated its campaign against them in recent years by detaining more than one million people in internment camps and prisons, which China calls vocational training centres.
“At the opening dinner of the Osaka G20 meeting, with only interpreters present, Mr Xi explained to Mr Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang,” Mr Bolton wrote.
“According to our interpreter, Mr Trump said that Mr Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.”
The claims are part of a book – called “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” – that the US government launched legal action to block, claiming it contains classified information and its publication could compromise national security.
It comes just four months after the Republican-controlled Senate voted to acquit Trump on charges brought by the Democratic-led House of Representatives stemming from his dealings with Ukraine.
That was only the third time in US history that a president has been impeached.
Analysis: The most explosive revelation yet from someone so close to Trump
By Greg Milam, US Correspondent
There have been tell-all memoirs from former Trump White House officials before but none as senior as John Bolton – and none with such explosive revelations from so close to the president.
For the former National Security Adviser, a veteran of Republican administrations, to accuse the president of “fundamentally unacceptable behavior that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency” is astonishing.
Alleging that Trump tried to secure help with his re-election from a foreign leader and offered to halt criminal investigations for favours from them goes to the very heart of American democracy.
The claim that all of Trump’s decisions in the Oval Office were guided by re-election concerns, rather than the national interest, is equally damning.
The White House dismisses Bolton’s allegations as those of a disgruntled former employee but they have tried very hard to block the publication of this book. They know the potential damage it could cause.
And Democrat critics will wonder why Bolton chose not to air all of this by testifying in the impeachment hearings, when his explosive words could have made a difference and not just ramp up the book sales.
Mocking Trump for not knowing the UK was a nuclear power or that Finland was not part of Russia will go down well with the president’s detractors.
It is the detailed substance of what Bolton saw – and has now reported – that is significant. As always though, the question of what the American voter will make of it is pivotal – and almost impossible to predict.