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News Brief: Bolton's Book, A Health Warning, Noose Found In Bubba Wallace's Garage

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton has a three-word description for his former boss, an empty chair.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Bolton's memoir comes out this week describing an incompetent president who is constantly currying favor with dictators - or as Bolton said in an NPR interview...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JOHN BOLTON: Well, this really, in a sense, is a book about how not to be president.

GREENE: Bolton's book is called "The Room Where It Happened." President Trump's administration asked a judge to stop publication of it. The judge rejected that over the weekend, saying it is far too late. But the judge did add that Bolton, quote, "likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information."

MARTIN: So Steve Inskeep spoke with John Bolton about the book last night. And he joins us now. Hey, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Morning.

MARTIN: So what does John Bolton have to say about this charge made by the judge, that the details enclosed in this book endangered national security?

INSKEEP: He tells the story differently than the judge does. There is, as you know, Rachel, a process to review the books of ex-officials for classified information. And the judge said Bolton opted out of getting final formal approval. Bolton says the administration was just trying to stifle his book and that one National Security Council official did admit the book was fine. So I just asked this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

INSKEEP: Did you disclose classified information to your knowledge?

BOLTON: I did not. It was never my intention to - in writing the manuscript, to disclose classified information. I've had years of experience with this. And we went through the full pre-publication clearance process at the NSC.

INSKEEP: Bolton says he had an obligation to tell this story. Although, the judge says he has exposed himself to prosecution or losing royalties.

MARTIN: So I mean, what was so sensitive that the Trump administration claimed it shouldn't be published?

INSKEEP: We don't know, Rachel, what the administration thinks or asserts was classified. We do know the book has detailed and really unflattering descriptions of the president, which come from a deeply experienced official who's been a regular on Fox News - can't exactly be dismissed as a liberal.

Bolton describes the president meddling in law enforcement cases, quote, "obstruction of justice as a way of life." He says the president keeps trying to be friends with dictators like Kim Jong Un of North Korea. And at one point, he describes Trump vacillating over whether to cancel the summit with Kim and comparing it to his dating life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOLTON: Well, he said that - he always - back when he was a - back in the day, as they say, he always wanted to be the one who broke up with the girl first. He didn't want the girl to break up with him. And he used that to describe whether he would cancel the summit with Kim Jong Un first or whether we would risk the North Koreans canceling it.

And I thought it was an insight into the president, candidly given, that showed how he approached this - as opposed to looking at it from the perspective of what our ultimate strategic interest was. In my view, it would've been better not to agree to the summit to begin with.

INSKEEP: Bolton sees a pattern of making random decisions without strategic thinking.

MARTIN: Interesting. So John Bolton had been this very wanted witness in the impeachment trial for President Trump.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MARTIN: And there were all these reasons why he couldn't do it. Does he, in the book or in your interview, explain why that never happened?

INSKEEP: He argues that the House impeachment effort was partisan, that it was never going to work and, therefore, he refused to be part of it. Of course, he's been brutally criticized for saying, hey, wait for my book.

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: For what it's worth, he does now confirm a lot of the details in impeachment, including a famous meeting where he described the president's effort as a drug deal.

MARTIN: Who's he going to vote for in November?

INSKEEP: Not Donald Trump, he says. Although, he voted for him in 2016. He says he'll write in the name of some unnamed conservative.

MARTIN: All right. Our own Steve Inskeep with this interview of former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Steve, thanks for bringing us this.

INSKEEP: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: OK. So at this point, all 50 states have eased their lockdown restrictions.

GREENE: And yet at least 20 states are seeing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. But President Trump told a rally on Saturday that cases are going up because testing is going up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.

GREENE: Testing down - we will get to that presidential statement in just a moment. But public health officials, they are looking at this rise in new cases. And they're warning that people should be more vigilant about wearing masks and also about social distancing.

MARTIN: NPR's Allison Aubrey is with us this morning. Hi, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the president made this quip at the rally. What kind of reaction has it gotten?

AUBREY: Well, a White House spokesperson said the president was joking when he made that comment. Yet, some Democratic lawmakers say the administration has yet to fully distribute all the funds allocated for testing. Now, this aside, if you look back, it is clear that a lack of testing capacity early did make it hard to know who was infected.

I'd say the issue remains politicized because now that testing is more widely available, Trump administration officials say, well, the sharp rise in cases being documented in states, it's just a reflection of increased testing, doesn't mean the virus is on the rise.

MARTIN: I mean, is there any truth to that, though?

AUBREY: You know, it's just not the case. All you have to do is look at hospitalizations. In Texas, for instance, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased nearly every day this month. In Houston, the CEO of Houston Methodist, physician Marc Boom, says there are now more than two times as many people hospitalized compared to just Memorial Day. He says the trend line is very concerning.

MARC BOOM: This is not a testing issue. I mean, I can unequivocally state that. The numbers of tests that have been positive are up very dramatically over the last three weeks. And we've let our guard down. We've gotten too lackadaisical. And if we don't change that very rapidly, we could be in trouble in about three weeks.

AUBREY: And, he says, what's notable is that it's now younger people being admitted with COVID-19 to the hospital compared to what they saw back in, you know, March and April was older patients.

MARTIN: What explains that? I mean, are older people just taking this more seriously, staying home, and young people just haven't been?

AUBREY: You know, that's one explanation. And Boom says many people seem to get the impression that everything was back to normal.

BOOM: I think people really, then, breath the sigh of relief, kind of opened up, did everything out there, threw caution to the wind. And I think we're starting to pay the price for it. And people really have to change their behaviors now or we're going to all regret it.

AUBREY: Because young people are much more likely to survive the virus, to get better. And so far, he says, the death rate among these recent patients seems lower - that's initial look at it. But, listen; most transmission happens in households. So a young person can bring the virus home and spread it...

MARTIN: Right.

AUBREY: ...To older, higher risk people in the home. That's the concern.

MARTIN: Right. NPR's Allison Aubrey. Allison, thanks, as always. We appreciate it.

AUBREY: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Bubba Wallace is the only black driver in NASCAR's Premier Cup competition. A couple weeks ago, he pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag from its events. And the organization did exactly that. But it is one thing to ban a symbol of hate and it is quite another to eradicate the hate itself.

GREENE: Yeah. So Wallace got a lot of praise for his activism. But now this - a noose has been found in his team's garage. This happened yesterday at Alabama's Talladega racetrack. NASCAR says it has launched an immediate investigation to find out the people responsible for what it's describing as a heinous act. This is what Wallace said to All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly about the NASCAR ban on the Confederate flag.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BUBBA WALLACE: This may open the doors for new people to want to be a part of our sport now, seeing how big of a change that we are doing with removing the flag and trying to become more diverse.

MARTIN: So how substantive is the change, though? NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us this morning. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: This is an awful thing that's happened. What do we know about the event itself?

GOLDMAN: According to reports, Bubba Wallace did not see this noose. One of his team members found it and alerted NASCAR officials. Now, Talladega is just the second event since NASCAR's coronavirus shutdown to allow fans back. But fans weren't allowed in the garage area. So it's assumed whoever left the noose was approved to be there - meaning, they would've had a NASCAR credential. NASCAR says it'll work with law enforcement officials as it investigates. The organization says it will do everything it can to identify who did it and eliminate them from the sport.

MARTIN: Has Bubba Wallace said anything?

GOLDMAN: He has. In a statement, he said he's incredibly saddened. And the incident serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism. He goes on to say, and I'm quoting here, "as my mother told me, they are just trying to scare you. This will not break me." Let's remember what he's done, Rachel, and the support he's gotten in just the last couple of weeks.

MARTIN: Right.

GOLDMAN: He's out there on the tracks wearing an I Can't Breathe T-shirt. He's got Black Lives Matter written on his no. 43 car. He's galvanized fellow white drivers, who've become engaged. And they made a dramatic video calling for the Confederate flag ban. Now, with all that dramatic change, there are a lot of people within NASCAR really angry, disgusted, about what happened.

MARTIN: So Sunday's race at Talladega was supposed to be the first real test of this ban - right? - the ban against the Confederate flag. It was the first event that was actually going to allow spectators. The race was postponed because of bad weather. So what happened? I mean, was there any sight of the Confederate flag.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. There was. I mean, some fans outside the speedway were flying the flag. And then a plane overhead was pulling a banner behind it with the Confederate flag and the words, defund NASCAR. Some of those showing the flag who were interviewed said what we've heard before. Their allegiance is based on Southern heritage, not hatred.

But, in fact, many historians note the flag represents states during the Civil War that wanted to preserve slavery. And it deeply offends. Bubba Wallace, when he first called for the flag ban, said, we need to come together and meet in the middle and say, you know what? If this bothers you, I don't mind taking it down. But as we saw yesterday in the skies over Talladega and the streets outside, there still are those who do mind.

MARTIN: And the race has been rescheduled for today. So we'll see what happens there. NPR's Tom Goldman on this story. Tom, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.