Interviews

John Bolton: Putin is smart, and that worries me

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," December 30, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

TRISH REGAN, GUEST HOST:  President-elect Donald Trump just calling Russian President Putin very smart.  That's his response as Putin puts off any retaliation moves against us for those sanctions.  

Instead, Russian officials seem more than happy to mock our current administration, trolling it with tweets like this, this one in which they basically call Obama a lame duck.  

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN:  I want to go to Ambassador Bolton right now, John Bolton, who is not laughing.  

Ambassador, you say this is perhaps again an example of Russia effectively mocking the U.S.?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS:  Well, certainly the lame duck tweet, we're deeply into high school here.  And that is not how you make policy one way or the other.  

I would say that, on Putin's decision not to expel American diplomats in retaliation for Obama's declaring 35 of theirs persona non grata, look, this has all the earmarks of a ploy.  

The way this was set up, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is reported publicly to have proposed to Putin that Russia expel 35 American diplomats. So they report the recommendation of the foreign minister, and then Vladimir Putin says, no, no, we won't do that.  

What a sweetheart, really.  And then it's reported in the Russian press that they have invited the children of families of American diplomats in Moscow to the Christmas party.  It's an Eastern Orthodox Christmas, obviously.  Invited the Christian to a Christmas party.  I mean, this guy has got a heart of gold, right?  

(LAUGHTER)

BOLTON:  So, this could be...

REGAN:  Something like that.  

BOLTON:  Yes.  

This could be entirely intended for the effect that they want to create, which is Vladimir Putin is a man you can do business with.  

REGAN:  All right.  So, how do you respond to Donald Trump's tweet, saying that he is very smart?  

BOLTON:  He is smart.  That's what worries me.  

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN:  So, that worries you, but in many ways -- and this what, look, Obama has been accused of all along, effectively playing checkers, when he needs to be playing chess.

The fact that he is so smart and he is thinking about things perhaps on a different level with a different nuance than we have previously, is Donald Trump up to the task?  In other words, it takes two to tango.  Can he play this "diplomacy" -- quote, unquote -- game with Putin at his speed?  

BOLTON:  Sure.  

But it's a more than just diplomacy.  This is the combination of politics and espionage and military that are all part of a spectrum.  They're not separate things.  

So, if the evidence that people have talked about, referring to Russian efforts to meddle in our elections, unsuccessfully, to be sure, thank goodness, but, nonetheless, a direct attack on the integrity and trust and confidence people have in our constitutional process, if that turns out to be right -- and the president-elect will meet with intelligence people next week -- then I think we have got a serious problem.

And to prevent future attacks, you have got to create the feeling in the Kremlin and Moscow and other foreign capitals of deterrence, that if they do this, they will...

REGAN:  Right, so a sense of fear.  

(CROSSTALK)

BOLTON:  They will pay a higher price.  

REGAN:  Well, do you do that by expelling diplomats?

BOLTON:  No.

REGAN:  Or do you do that by, say, launching your own cyber-attack in retaliation?

BOLTON:  No.

And this -- I have been saying this ever since Obama's announcement yesterday.  He has made a big mistake in lumping together his response to cyber-attack on the DNC and elsewhere and the response to the harassment of American diplomatic personnel in Moscow, because he has confused the issues.  

REGAN:  Right.  It's gotten political.

And, by the way, his critics are going to say this -- and this may be in fact one of his motives -- we don't know -- that he's just trying to rally his base.  In other words, this was done to publicly make this a much bigger story.  

Unfortunately, I'm out of time.  I got to leave it there.

But, Ambassador Bolton, always good to see you.  Pretty fascinating to watch all of this unfold.  

END

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