The top U.S. trade negotiator on Wednesday pushed back against former national security adviser John Bolton’s claim that President Donald Trump sought Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s help to win re-election, saying it is “absolutely untrue.”
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer denied the allegation, which is detailed in an excerpt from Bolton’s controversial memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” due for publication on June 23.
The book is Bolton’s recount of his time serving as national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019 in the White House, before he was fired by the president over policy differences.
“Absolutely untrue, never happened. I was there, I have no recollection of that ever happening,” Lighthizer said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday. “I don’t believe it’s true, I don’t believe it ever happened.”
An excerpt of the 592-page memoir was published Wednesday by a number of news outlets, including The New York Times.
The Trump administration on Tuesday sued to block Bolton from publishing the memoir, arguing that parts of it were “rife with classified information” and would compromise national security if published before completion of a government review. The government is seeking a court hearing on Friday.
Bolton in his memoir accused the president of asking Xi in a June 2019 meeting in Japan to purchase American agricultural products to help him win farm states.
Trump “turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Bolton’s book alleges.
Trump urged China to “buy as many American farm products as China could,” Bolton wrote.
“He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise,” the former national security adviser claimed.
Lighthizer dismissed the allegation on Wednesday, arguing that he was present at the meeting between the two leaders, and would have recollected the exchange if it were true.
“There was a meeting in on the outskirts of the G-20, in Osaka between the president and President Xi, and I was in that meeting,” the trade representative told the Senate hearing. “I don’t want you to think I’m being deceptive. I said what meeting I was at, and this never happened at it. For sure.”
“Would I have recollected something as crazy as that? Of course I would,” Lighthizer said.
The Trump administration’s lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday states that the White House National Security Council (NSC) “has determined that the manuscript in its present form contains certain passages—some up to several paragraphs in length—that contain classified national security information.”
Its publication “would cause irreparable harm, because the disclosure of instances of classified information in the manuscript reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage, or exceptionally grave damage, to the national security of the United States,” the lawsuit said.
The Justice Department (DOJ) requested that the court declare that Bolton in his memoir violated his nondisclosure agreement, by disclosing classified information, which is a federal crime.
The DOJ requested that the federal court order the former national security adviser to “instruct or request” publisher Simon and Schuster to delay publication to allow the memoir to undergo a national security review process, and “make the necessary deletions of classified information.”
The lawsuit also sought to order the publisher to “retrieve and dispose of” existing copies of the book.
Bolton’s lawyer Charles Cooper said they were reviewing the lawsuit and “will respond in due course.” Cooper previously said his client worked for months with the NSC to ensure that classified material is not released.