Mr. Trump and Bolton differed on whether Bolton offered to resign or was effectively fired. The president announced on Twitter that his top national security official had resigned at his request, while Bolton insisted he offered his resignation.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore…I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week,” Mr. Trump wrote.
Aggravation over Iran and the Taliban had intensified recently as Mr. Trump wanted a meeting to take place at Camp David and is open to a meeting with Iran’s president. But three sources directly involved tell CBS News White House correspondent Major Garrett that the main irritant that drove Mr. Trump to distraction was his belief that Bolton or those close to Bolton leaked a story about Mr. Trump asking about whether nuclear weapons could be used to abate hurricanes.
Bolton’s resignation letter, obtained by CBS News, was extremely brief.
Bolton, who was a Fox News contributor before he took the administration job, also appears to be taking issue with the president‘s version of his departure. He texted Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade, “Let’s be clear — I resigned.” He also texted Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, “I will have my say in due course.”
A person close to Bolton told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan that Bolton did indeed offer to resign Monday night, and the president said the two should talk about it Tuesday, although that conversation did not ultimately occur. This person told Brennan that Bolton did submit a letter and characterized it as a very brief letter, not a “diatribe.”
The source defended Bolton’s service in the Trump administration, asserting that in the last 17 months — the duration of his tenure — there have been “no bad deals,” telling Brennan that Bolton weighed in significantly on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, Syria and Turkey.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham reaffirmed to reporters that Mr. Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation letter Tuesday night. She also confirmed that Bolton is not currently at the White House.
The White House was in a state of slight disarray after the president‘s tweet, with top administration officials rushing in and out of meetings and a source close to Bolton speaking to reporters within earshot of Grisham.
A former senior administration official told CBS News that Bolton “got too big for his britches” while he was national security adviser and that he “doesn’t play well in the sandbox,” an attitude that infuriated many in the White House, including the president.
A source familiar with the situation also told CBS News that the drumbeat for Bolton’s removal grew louder over the past month. According to this source, senior staff at the White House were saying in the last two weeks that Bolton was on “thin ice” and would be “the next one removed.”
Bolton was often at loggerheads with Pompeo, most recently over U.S. negotiations with the Taliban to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. The two disagreed over whether a reduction of U.S. troops could happen with or without a negotiated deal. Bolton opposed negotiating with the Taliban.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump made the surprise announcement that peace talks with the Taliban had been canceled and further, that he had invited the Taliban and president of Afghanistan to Camp David to hammer out a peace deal — on the very week marking the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, in which 3,000 Americans died on U.S. soil.
Mr. Trump tweeted that he “called off peace negotiations” and the Camp David visit in the wake of last week’s car bomb attack near the U.S. embassy in Kabul that killed one American service member and another NATO soldier, as well as at least 10 civilians.
Under Bolton, the White House and National Security Council, ostensibly a component of the executive office of the president, had functionally become “separate entities,” a White House official said. “[National Security Adviser John] Bolton has his priorities. He didn’t ask the president ‘What are your priorities?’ They’re Bolton’s priorities.”
Bolton, who served in the George W. Bush administration and was a supporter of U.S. engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, was one of the most hawkish foreign policy voices in Mr. Trump‘s cabinet. Bolton often advocated for a harder line in dealing with Iran.
Bolton had been scheduled to speak with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Pompeo Tuesday afternoon. At that briefing, Pompeo noted that “the president‘s entitled to the staff that he wants.” He also confirmed reporting that he often had disagreements with Bolton.
“There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed, that’s for sure,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo asked whether he was blindsided by Bolton’s resignation, given that Bolton was supposed to be at the briefing with him and Mnuchin on Tuesday.
“I am never surprised,” Pompeo said with a smile.
He is the fourth national security adviser to depart the administration since Mr. Trump took office. Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster preceded Bolton in the job, and Keith Kellogg was an acting national security adviser. Charles Kupperman is now serving as the acting head of the National Security Council, according to a White House official.
Major Garrett, Sara Cook, Arden Farhi, Olivia Gazis, Fin Gomez and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.