MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Another day, another tweet from the president announcing he's fired one of his top advisers. Quote, "I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House," Trump tweeted. "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." John Bolton has been serving as Trump's national security adviser, his third in less than three years.
With me now are NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, who covers the White House. Hi, there.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: And NPR's Michele Kelemen over at the State Department.
KELEMEN: Hi, there.
KELLY: Ayesha, I'm going to start with you. How much of a surprise was this?
RASCOE: In some ways, it wasn't a huge surprise. Trump and Bolton were always kind of an odd pair because Trump came into office saying that he was going to stop all these endless wars, and Bolton is known as a hawk. But they were able to make it work for more than a year. There were some signs, though, that the relationship was fraying. There was this big incident over the summer, where Trump met with Kim Jong Un - North Korea's Kim Jong Un. And he stepped into North Korea, and Bolton wasn't there. He was on a trip to Mongolia.
KELLY: Right. And the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was. But Bolton, nowhere to be found on that particular trip, yeah.
RASCOE: Exactly. And - yeah. So they tried to defend it, but it stood out.
KELLY: It seemed as though maybe this was a little bit of a surprise to Bolton himself, at least the timing. He tweeted - right after President Trump tweeted that he'd fired him, Bolton tweeted that he'd offered to resign last night. And President Trump said, oh, let's talk about it tomorrow.
RASCOE: So yeah, this administration is never really on the same page. And in this case as well...
RASCOE: ...They were not - they couldn't get on the same page about the timeline. So it did seem like - that Bolton was kind of caught off guard. But the fact that he contradicted Trump so quickly shows that he's not necessarily going to go just quietly into the night and that he may be willing to stir the pot even after he's gone.
KELLY: Michele, let me bring you in here because I want to talk about what impact this may have on national security policy. Bolton, as Ayesha just mentioned, was seen as a hawk, a guy who liked to fight. Here's President Trump answering a question about that this summer on NBC.
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CHUCK TODD: Do you feel like you were being pushed into military action against Iran by any of your advisers?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have two groups of people. I have doves, and I have hawks.
TODD: Yeah. And you have some serious hawks.
TRUMP: I have some hawks. Oh, yeah. I have - John Bolton is absolutely a hawk. If it was up to him, he'd take on the whole world at one time, OK? But that doesn't matter because I want both sides.
KELLY: Michele, how will John Bolton's leaving be seen in Iran - we just heard that asked about - or in North Korea, for that matter?
KELEMEN: Well, an adviser to Iran's president has already mentioned that Bolton's departure is a sign of - that the U.S. policy of maximum pressure is failing. Now, of course, Pompeo, who's also, I might say, pretty tough on Iran, says the maximum pressure will continue, sanctions are going to remain in place.
But when he was asked today whether it's possible that Trump might now meet his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month, he said sure, pointing out that the president has always been open for dialogue, as you say he is with North Korea, as well.
KELLY: This dynamic between Bolton and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has made a lot of news. These two men were often reported to be clashing. Pompeo was asked about it, and he affirmed that view today.
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MIKE POMPEO: I don't talk about the inner workings of how this all goes. We all give our candid opinions. There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed, that's to be sure. But that's true for lots of people who - with whom I interact.
KELLY: Let me ask both of you briefly. Does this leave Pompeo - for now - as the last man standing who has the president's ear when it comes to key foreign policy decisions? Michele, you first.
KELEMEN: Well, he's certainly proven himself to be loyal. I mean, he was the one on Sunday morning talk shows going out and defending the president for inviting the Taliban to Camp David on the week of Sept. 11 and then calling off that meeting.
But you know, Pompeo once joked himself that he's in this job until Trump tweets him out of office. And he seems to be keeping his options open. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants Pompeo to run for Senate in Kansas. And Pompeo hasn't ruled that out, though he says he is in this job for the time being and will stay as long as the president wants him.
RASCOE: Well, you know, I think that Pompeo is definitely in that role right now. But Trump himself is really the one that drives these decisions. So even talking to kind of former officials, what they say is it's Trump who's really driving this. And so even if you change officials, he's the one that is making these final decisions.
KELLY: And briefly, to the inevitable who's-next question - Charles Kupperman, currently deputy national security adviser, has been asked to step in as acting. Is he a candidate for the permanent job? Does Trump want a permanent national security adviser? He seems to like his actings.
RASCOE: Yeah, it's not clear right now whether they're going to - how quickly they will fill this role. This is an administration that often has people in acting positions for a very long time, and that gives Trump a little bit more flexibility. So we'll see what happens with this one.
KELLY: That is NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe and NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Thanks, you two.
KELEMEN: Nice to be here.
RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.