A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, July 1, 2018 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS HOST: Let’s bring in White House national security adviser John Bolton. He joins us from Trump Turnberry in Scotland where the president is enjoying a round of golf this morning ahead of his big summit tomorrow in Finland.
Thank you for joining us, Ambassador Bolton.
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Glad to be with you.
KARL: This summit comes just after Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials. Does the president feel blindsided or undermined by the timing of that indictment coming just as he’s about to sit-down with President Putin?
BOLTON: Oh, quite the contrary. The president was briefed on the indictment coming. I spoke with him about it. He was perfectly prepared to have it come before the meeting with Putin. I would say in fact it strengthens his hand. It shows that the — the justice system, the Department of Justice, are aware of these Russian efforts in election meddling, and I think the president can put this on the table and say, this is a serious matter that we need to talk about.
KARL: Now that you have seen the indictment lay out in great detail what happened here, do you have any doubt that Putin himself knew what was going on at the very least?
BOLTON: Well, I can tell you when I met with President Putin a few weeks ago to prepare for the Helsinki meeting. He made it plain that he said the Russian state was not involved, and he was very clear with his translator that that’s the word that he wanted. Now we’ll have to see given that these are allegations concerning GRU agents, obviously part of the Russian state, what he says about it now.
KARL: Because is there any way that you could 12 officials, some of them quite senior in Russian military intelligence carry out an operation to undermine a U.S. presidential election and that Putin himself would not know? Do you find that in any way credible?
BOLTON: I find it hard to believe, but that’s what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it.
KARL: Will the president ask Putin to extradite those 12 individuals who have been indicted?
BOLTON: Well, you know I know a number of Democratic senators have called for extradition. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume none of them are lawyers because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, so it’s pretty hard to imagine how that would happen. I know some other have called for the United States to take steps to try and arrest these individuals. I think that’s certainly something the Department of Justice will try and do. It’s always possible that we could go to Interpol, the International Association of Chiefs and Police — Chiefs of Police, give them what are called red notices, to issue arrest warrants in other countries, but you know, the Department of Justice, they’re decision, I think correctly made this indictment public. They did not put it under seal, which means that they’ve given notice to the named defendants that they could be arrested, so makes it harder to achieve the arrests, but I’m sure the Department will pursue the normal channels that it can to try to bring these people to trial.
KARL: Well, extradition treaty or not, the president could ask, even demand of Putin that he turned these individuals over? Will he do that?
BOLTON: You know, it’s pretty silly for the president to demand something that he can’t get legally. And this is a very serious matter. You know, the Russians take the position, you can like it or not like it, that their constitution forbids them to extradite Russian citizens. They have an agreement with the Europeans that looks a lot like an extradition treaty. Europeans, frequently, tried to use that to get the Russians to extradite their nationals and they flat out refused to do it.
So, I think — for the president to demand something that isn’t going to happen puts the president in a weak position, and I think the president has made it very clear he intends to approach this discussion from a position of strength.
KARL: But if Putin is unwilling to acknowledge that the Russian state, this was not just Russian actors, this was, as you pointed out, this is Russian intelligence, Russian military intelligence, if Putin is unwilling to acknowledge the Russian state’s effort to interfere in our election, can you really trust him on anything else? I mean, it was you who said the last time President Trump met with President Putin, negotiate at today’s Russia at your peril.
BOLTON: Well, you know, I always love to have statements that I made at my capacity as a private citizen repeated back to me. I’m glad your researchers had to look into it. I hope they found that it’s edifying experience.
I think the president will handle this as he chooses. I think he’ll put it to President Putin. He said he’s going to do that. He’ll listen to President Putin’s response and we’ll go from there.
KARL: Well, let me ask you as the national security adviser to the president. Do you think that President Trump should trust Vladimir Putin?
BOLTON: Look, I said this before, I’ll say it again — I’m the national security adviser. I’m not the national security decision-maker. I give — it’s privilege to give my advice to the president, I don’t discuss it publicly. He’s going to make the decision how to handle this.
KARL: Let me play something that the president said at this joint press conference with Theresa May.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I call it the rigged witch hunt. I think that really hurts our country and it really hurts our relationship with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: So, I’m trying to understand there. You said that this indictments strengthens the president’s hand and yet even after he was briefed on what was happening, he called it a rigged witch hunt. Is he suggesting that there’s anything illegitimate about this indictment?
BOLTON: I think what he’s suggesting is that his political opponent in the United States for well all over a year and a half have been trying to say that somehow he’s a dupe for the Russian intelligence services, that he’s an agent of the Kremlin, that he’s been compromised by Russia, that he blinked to Russia, that he takes orders from Vladimir Putin. I mean, really, the conspiracies are about as obscure as you can imagine, just subject to people’s imagination. That’s what he’s talking about.
This indictment, a product of the Department of Justice, presumably, that’s the Department of Justice guidelines which say that prosecutors have to believe that it’s more — substantially more likely than that to take a guilty beyond reasonable doubt as to every element of the offenses being charged. And that I think is what strengthens the president.
And going into Vladimir Putin, that’s the strength of the evidence that the department has accumulated. That’s what he has to answer.
KARL: The Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats just said that Russia is the most aggressive foreign actor in efforts to divide America. And then he said this: the warning lights are blinking red again. Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.
He even compared these Russian efforts to 9/11, the situation ahead of 9/11.
How concerned are you that Russia will try to do this again, will try to again undermine an American election?
BOLTON: Well, I think we’re quite concerned about it. The president has been briefed on this previously by the Department of Justice, including the FBI, by the Department of Homeland Security. These briefings have been well ongoing. You heard the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen explained of many of the efforts she’s undertaking to prevent this from happening, certainly to the security of our electoral systems in each of the different states.
There’s a lot of things going on that we can’t talk because they’re classified. And obviously you’re not going to alert your adversaries and those trying to corrupt the election process to what we’re doing. But I think it’s very clear the president determined that we’re not going to have any outsider interfered with the integrity of our electoral process.
KARL: I’m sure you saw several Democrats who were calling on the president to cancel the summit. We also heard from Senator John McCain who said if President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward. Obviously, the summit is moving forward, but will the president hold Putin accountable? And I don’t mean just ask him if he did it, or if the Russians did it. Is he actually going to confront President Putin with the evidence that it was Russian interference, Russian government interference with our election?
BOLTON: Well, look, you have two indictments by the Justice Department. Already, I think the Russians are well aware of that. How this conversation is going to go I think we’ll be determined by the two parties. We have asked that the Russians have agreed that it will be basically unstructured. We’re not looking for concrete deliverables here.
I think it’s very important that the president has a direct one-on-one conversation with President Putin. That’s how this was going to start off, and I’d say that every European leader that we’ve met with on this trip, including most recently on Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom has said they support this meeting going forward. The British have significant concerns about the Russian use of a chemical agent against people here in Great Britain and as they pointed out, that constitutes the chemical weapons attack against the nuclear power.
Prime Minister May is very strong in her conversation with the president about that, and I’m sure the president has that in mind as well. There are going to be a lot of very difficult issues on the agenda here with President Putin and I think President Trump is prepared to raise all.
KARL: So, there are also concerns from our allies about the president offering concession to President Putin. Can we just quickly go through three of these? Will the president recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea or will he rule that out?
BOLTON: That is not the policy of the United States. And I might say that there are a lot of people raising a lot of concerns about a lot of things that we can sit there and address a whole range of them. I think the president is going in to this meeting determined to advance the national interest of the United States. That’s what he was elected to do.
KARL: So, let me just go through the others then. One is the joint military exercises with Russia’s Baltic neighbors. Will he rule out ending those? Are those going to continue?
BOLTON: That’s not on the agenda.
KARL: And withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria?
BOLTON: That whole — the whole situation in Syria will be a discussion that the two leaders will have in large part because it’s getting more serious. But I think the president has made it clear that we are there until the ISIS territorial caliphate is removed and as long as the Iranian menace continues throughout the Middle East.
KARL: You know, I want to ask you about Putin and freedom of the press. Vladimir Putin’s government have jailed journalists. There’d even been accusations that there have been — they carried out murders of journalists critical of the Russian state.
And we hear President Trump — doesn’t he kind of contribute to that authoritarian effort to undermine a free press, when we hear him brand legitimate news organization as fake, legitimate news stories as fake? Doesn’t that contribute to exactly the kind of undermining of the free press that we see out of Russia?
BOLTON: No, I don’t think it has anything to do with it. Let’s just be clear, Franklin Roosevelt met with Joseph Stalin at a time activity in Russia was about worse than it is today. I’m not excusing present conduct, but it didn’t seem to bother Franklin Roosevelt and liberal Democrats once bothered at a time when he met with Stalin.
So, let’s try and have historical perspective here and not act like we have the attention span of fruit flies.
KARL: But wait a minute, I’m not asking whether or not it’s legitimate or appropriate for him to meet with Vladimir Putin. I’m asking if the president branding real news organization, real news stories as not real, contributes to this effort that we see from the Russians and from other authoritarians to undermine the free press?
BOLTON: Of course not. Really, honestly, Jonathan, I think the question’s silly.
KARL: Well let me ask you about —
BOLTON: And don’t say I’m attacking freedom of the press. I just pasteurized the (ph) question.
KARL: OK well you were also scheduled to appear on CNN this morning and the White House press secretary announced that your appearance would not go forward because a CNN reporter quote, disrespected the president and Prime Minister May at the joint press conference. Is it really appropriate to deny a news organization access to a White House official because a reporter tried to ask a question at a press conference?
BOLTON: Look, in reality I don’t seek out the press, I don’t talk to them, I — I appear when I’m — I’m asked to and if I’m not — if I’m not asked to appear, I don’t do it. And I don’t communicate with them either as you could find out if you consulted your friends in the Washington press corps, whom I don’t communicate with.
KARL: OK. Let me ask you about what the president — the president’s characterization of the relationship with Russia. He said that Russia — Putin is not an enemy, he is a competitor and he’s somebody that he hopes will be a friend. All of that may be true, but isn’t it also true that — that Putin — today’s Russia is an adversary of the United States?
BOLTON: Yes, there are certainly adversarial aspects of it. There’s no question about it. But you know, the phrase peer competitor has often been used to characterize U.S. relations (ph) with China, with Russia, with others. So I thought the president was — was on the mark there.
KARL: The president at his meeting with NATO said that the U.S. could go it alone or do our own thing if NATO allies don’t put more into the collective defense. Is it — would the president really consider withdrawing from NATO, withdrawing support from NATO if — if our allies don’t put in more?
BOLTON: Look, that — that — that’s not exactly what he said. I was there at every conversation he had in Brussels on the subject, I heard him at length and I heard the allies respond to him (ph). He made a very important point. NATO is a collective defense organization. To be strong together, all 29 allies has to pull their fair share of the burden. They acknowledge that.
They also acknowledge that they have not done so. And they acknowledge what I think is the most important point of all here, that President Trump, unlike any of his predecessors, has finally made this burden sharing issue something of an — of importance.
And the impromptu meeting that we had in Brussels last Thursday, the prime minister of one of the European countries said expressly, referring to President Obama, you know, he would come here and he’d say oh yes, we need your defense expenditures to equal two percent of GDP by 2024, ho hum and then he’d move on. And that was a recognition which I heard from other European leaders as well, that they knew President Obama was just going through the motions.
So of course, hearing the president of the United States just going through the motions, that’s how they responded. They’ve heard from President Trump he doesn’t want them to go through motions, he wants to live up to the commitment that they made.
And I think viewers need to understand that every NATO ally agreed that Carter Quayle (ph) in 2014 (ph), it hit the two percent target by 2024. Nobody has ever said that they didn’t reach it, they weren’t coerced by the United States to do that.
They agreed to it of their own free will, and they should live up to it. The United States and our tax payers should not be subsidizing European welfare states who are not willing to spend on their own defense.
I think the president’s right on the policy here.
KARL: Before you go, I want to ask you about North Korea. Of course, after the summit in Singapore, the president said, quote, “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea”.
Given what we have seen since that summit, and there are reports of North Koreans actively trying to deceive us about the extent of their nuclear program, and of course we had Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang.
He wasn’t even able to meet with Kim Jong-un, did not appear to be a very productive meeting. Given what we have seen since that Singapore summit, isn’t what the president said about there no longer being a nuclear threat from North Korea at the very least wildly premature?
BOLTON: Come on, what he was saying in context was that if North Korea lives up to the commitments that it made on denuclearization, then it would no longer be a threat. The test here will be what North Korea actually does to live up to the commitment that they made in Singapore that they say they still uphold and that now they need to fulfill.
KARL: I mean actually the quote was there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea, he didn’t say anything about if they meet their commitments or any of that. But —
BOLTON: I — I think it was clear what he meant.
KARL: Well let me ask you, do you think they’re meeting their commitments? Is there any indication that they are on a path towards meeting those commitments?
BOLTON: I — I think that’s what Secretary Mike Pompeo is doing in his meetings. He’s got a very tough job. We’re all trying to help him out. And he’s going to work it through.
KARL: OK, one last question, Ambassador.
BOLTON: I thought the last one was the last one.
KARL: Well it was the last — that was another topic. One last question. There’s been many attempts to try to characterize what the Trump doctrine is, one that I saw recently was, quote, “no friends, no enemies”. Does that sound to you like the Trump doctrine? How would you put it?
BOLTON: I think it sounds like a cheap shot, Jonathan. Look, I’m a Burkean conservative, I don’t do doctrines unless I have to. I think the president believes in Ronald Reagan’s approach, peace through strength.
I think that’s what he’s carrying out.
KARL: All right, Ambassador John Bolton, the president’s national security advisor. Thank you for joining us.
BOLTON: Always glad to do it.
KARL: Appreciate it, sir, thank you very much.