Russia, China Slam Bolton’s Claim That They ‘Sow Disinformation’ About the Administration

By Patrick Goodenough | June 13, 2019 | 4:45 AM EDT

National Security Advisor John Bolton meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: The Kremlin)

(CNSNews.com) – The Russian and Chinese foreign ministries on Wednesday hit back indignantly at National Security Advisor John Bolton’s claim that they and other countries antagonistic to the U.S. are spreading disinformation about policy rifts within the Trump administration.

Playing down the notion of serious disagreements inside the administration, Bolton at a Wall Street Journal event this week attributed the narrative to unfriendly regimes but also blamed “the stenographers of these regimes in the American press.”

“We have substantial reason to believe that North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China have made a decision to – and you can see it publicly – to try to sow disinformation about the administration," Bolton said. “And to say that the president and his advisers are divided, and things like that.”

“Seriously?” asked Maria Zakharova, foreign ministry spokeswoman in Moscow. In a Facebook posting she said Bolton’s words were “so incredible,” she had to re-read them three times.

Zakharova noted that President Trump himself, just weeks ago, posted a tweet calling former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “dumb as a rock.” It was likely that such derisive words were born out of unity in opinions, she said.

Zakharova then turned to sarcasm.

Alluding to Trump’s Twitter use and to reports in U.S. media on disagreements inside the administration, she said Bolton had better admit that Russian trolls are running Trump’s Twitter account and that U.S. media outlets are owned by Russian oligarchs.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing Wednesday also commented on Bolton’s remarks.

“If I recall it correctly, these reports on the inner disagreements in the U.S. government and among American officials are mostly carried by U.S. media,” he said. “The allegation that China and Russia spread disinformation is totally blame-shifting.”

National Security Advisor John Bolton listens as President Trump speaks during an Oval Office meeting last April. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Broadening his retort, Geng then recalled that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at Texas A&M University last April, had made a comment about the CIA training agents to lie, cheat and steal.

“If you take this into consideration and think about the invasion into Iraq by certain country in 2003 under the pretext that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, it’s not difficult to find out who is spreading disinformation, violating international law and undermining international order,” concluded Geng. “I believe the international community would have a fair judgment.”

‘Stenographers’

At the Wall Street Journal CFO Network event this week, Bolton was asked about differences with Trump over North Korea and Iran.

After challenging an example given by the event’s moderator – relating to recent North Korean short-range missile launches – he turned a spotlight onto hostile regimes.

“We have substantial reason to believe that North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China have made a decision to – and you can see it publicly – to try to sow disinformation about the administration," he said. “And to say that the president and his advisers are divided, and things like that.”

As an example, Bolton cited Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif’s repeated references to a “B Team,” supposedly goading Trump to a war with Iran.

(Based on the letter B in their names, Zarif lumps in the group Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed.)

The moderator, the Journal’s John Bussey, then pointed out that it was U.S. media outlets that were reporting on differences within the administration.

“That’s my point,” said Bolton. “The stenographers of these regimes in the American press immediately pick it up.”

When Bussey protested, Bolton offered as an example a New York Times report drawing attention to his absence at a state dinner during Trump’s recent visit to Japan.

“I had a cold, so I didn’t go to this formal dinner,” he said. “And that was duly noted in the New York Times, like sort of Kremlinology: ‘Bolton’s absence at the dinner was noted.’”

“Well, noted by the New York Times and CNN,” Bolton added. “I was asleep, trying to shake my cold, but they didn’t bother to ask about that.”

Pressed by Bussey on how differences inside the administration may be viewed from abroad, Bolton said, “Here’s a hidden truth: There are disagreements within allied governments on foreign policy too. That’s how it works.”

Repeating a line he has used frequently since taking up his post when asked about purported differences with Trump, he said that “the president in our system makes the final decisions,” and that he was national security advisor, “not the national security decision-maker.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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