(NewsNation) — John Bolton, former Trump administration national security advisor and former ambassador to the United Nations, talked with NewsNation’s Leland Vittert in the first interview since being named the target of an alleged murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by an Iranian operative.
Here is how the conversation transpired:
Q: Are we to believe that this wasn’t a rogue spy in Tehran, but an attempt by the Iranian government to kill you?
Bolton: Well, you know, there’s there are things that I can’t talk about. But what we can talk about is what the Department of Justice filed last week and was released from being under seal this morning, which was information that they had accumulated over a substantial period of time, about the direct involvement of the government of Iran. And in fact, as they say, they believe that the government’s action was prompted by the death of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force. So this is a sort of document, this is not chatter on the internet, this is not even intelligence intercepted, here, there. This is a sustained effort here of putting all this information together, that leads to the beginning of a criminal prosecution by the United States government, obviously, a very serious decision.
Q: You’ve been a thorn in the side of the Iranians for a long time. Are you surprised?
Bolton: Well, no, I’m not surprised. Look, the Iranian government is untrustworthy, an enemy of the United States and its nuclear weapons program, its support for international terrorism, like Hezbollah and Hamas and the Hutus in Yemen, its own acts of state terrorism are all part of the same mix.
This is the government that’s out there. And I think that they’ll do almost anything. So that’s why I believe that the current efforts by the Biden administration to go back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are so badly misguided.
The same people who are saying, “Oh, yes, of course, we’re going to give up our nuclear weapons program” are trying to kill Americans on American soil. It’s not just me, there are others who are affected. This happens to have risen to the level of a criminal complaint here. But I’m not the first and doubtless won’t be the last.
Q: Do you feel as though the Biden administration is being forceful enough with the regime in Tehran right now in their response?
Bolton: Iran going back to its assistance to Hezbollah, in killing Americans in Beirut, in 1983. Its efforts to arm Shia militia in Iraq and kill American soldiers and diplomats there. The Iranians have a long history of attacking Americans. And, look, I think it’s long past the time when American policy ought to be that we favor the overthrowing of the regime in Tehran, because there will not be peace and stability in the Middle East as long as that regime is there. And as long as they think Americans are weak enough to try to negotiate to get back into the nuclear deal, they’re going to continue to act this way. One reason I do think the Justice Department made the correct decision to file this criminal complaint and to unseal it is to say to the Iranians, “We know what your game is,” and to inform the American people about what this government is trying to do on American soil. Just think about that: on American soil, killing American civilians. It’s really, it’s, it’s something that should cause people to say, “Why are we negotiating with them about nuclear weapons?”
Q: Why are we negotiating with Iran about nuclear weapons?
Bolton: Well, I wouldn’t, and I think that’s why in the Trump administration, the president made the right decision to get out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. It was a terrible deal when it was made, was not going to stop Iran or even materially impede their progress toward nuclear weapons. And the idea we would go back into the deal now after making a year and a half worth of concessions to Iran, really it would be a tragic mistake for the United States to do that.
Q: This does not seem to be fazing you in the least.
Bolton: All I can say is, President Biden has authorized the Secret Service to give me basically the same protection I had when I was national security advisor, and I thank him for that. And in the hands of the Secret Service, I think I think I’m about as safe as I can be.
Q: Would this plot have happened under the Trump administration?
Bolton: Well, in fact, it did begin during the Trump administration, and perhaps not just with respect to me again. There are plenty of things I don’t know, and besides couldn’t talk about. But other Americans who might be threatened, that the FBI has a process called “Duty to Warn,” which describes the circumstances under which they tell private American citizens that they face foreign threats. So my first contact with the bureau on that, which was continuing, but came in early 2020, during the Trump administration. So there was information out there about this Iranian threat even back then.
Q: President Trump ordered the killing of Qasem Soleimani after the attacks on the US Embassy in Iraq by the Iranian-backed militias. Clear violence-with-violence types of reaction? Could you give us sort of a sense of what that reaction could look like or under a different administration against Iran, something that you would have advised?
Bolton: Well, I felt that after withdrawing from the nuclear deal and posing significant economic sanctions on Iran, what we call the maximum pressure campaign, that the next logical step for the United States government, for its own safety and the safety of its friends and allies in the Middle East, Israel, the Gulf Arabs, was to support the opposition to the regime in Tehran. Because this revolutionary regime has not deviated from its goals from 1979. It’s a threat to its neighbors, the Arab states. It’s a threat to Israel. It’s a threat to the United States. As long as it’s there, it’s going to be a threat. The nuclear threat is obviously the most acute, but in the region, the terrorist threat is the threat they face every day, and the regime is not going to change. This is inherent in the regime’s ideology. And that’s what we need to recognize. We haven’t, we still haven’t done that yet. And the Biden administration hasn’t recognized it to the point, they’re still trying to go back into the nuclear deal, which would be a terrible strategic error for the United States.
Q: If there is not a military response or some type of response beyond what we’ve seen, by the Biden administration, to this news becoming public, how will the Ayatollah and the IRGC interpret that?
Bolton: Well, I hope that unsealing this information today will be a deterrent to Iran to say “we understand what you’re up to.”
Q: Do you believe it will be or is the only language the Iranians will understand force in response to this?
Bolton: Well, my position on this has been clear for a long time: The only way to solve the problem of the regime in Tehran today is to get rid of the regime. And deterrence. Deterrence only goes so far. So I’ve been clear in that as a private citizen and in my official capacity as well.