Trump dislikes Trudeau and once ordered staff to attack him on TV, Bolton book alleges

U.S. President Donald Trump does not like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and once personally instructed his staff to attack him in television interviews, former White House official John Bolton alleges in his new book.

Bolton describes tense G7 meeting in Canada

Left: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Right: U.S. President Donald Trump. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters, Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump does not like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and once personally instructed his staff to attack him in television interviews, former White House official John Bolton alleges in his new book.

In his soon-to-be-released memoir, The Room Where It Happened, Bolton recounts the leaders' notorious dustup at the G7 conference in Quebec in 2018.

The tension at the meeting was widely known at the time, given Trump's move to impose broad tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, including products from allied countries like Canada.

Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, said the president had negative feelings about the leaders of Canada and France. In his book, he describes the unusual interpersonal dynamics of their meetings.

Then-U.S. national security adviser John Bolton watches as Trump gives a news briefing at the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., in 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

"Trump didn't really like either Macron or Trudeau," Bolton writes. "But he tolerated them, mockingly crossing swords with them in meetings, kidding on the straight.

"I assume they understood what he was doing, and they responded in kind, playing along because it suited their interests not to be in a permanent tiff with the U.S. president."

Inside that infamous G7 meeting

Bolton offers an insider account of one well-known flareup at the end of that G7 meeting. 

The leaders were struggling to hammer out a closing communiqué at the conference.

At one point, Bolton writes, Trump's then-chief of staff John Kelly called for Bolton to join the prolonged haggling session — where the problems in the meeting were quickly made clear.

Bolton writes the chief of staff walked out as he was walking in, saying, "This is a disaster." 

Bolton quickly concurred — he says Trump seemed tired, yet Macron and Trudeau were aggressively pushing the president to accept policy provisions he disagreed with.

G7 leaders huddle at the opening of the conference in Charlevoix in 2018. (PMO via REUTERS)

He says he couldn't tell if Trump was playing hardball with them. But he did conclude the president had not prepared for the G7 meeting and didn't understand the issues.

Both the White House and Trudeau's office declined to comment on Bolton's book.

Another official present at that G7 meeting told CBC News today that Bolton's account is accurate, although the leaders' meeting itself was quite cordial.

He did agree with Bolton that the U.S. president appeared to have arrived at the summit unaware of the issues.

Iran and climate change

And he said Bolton was correct in his description of deep policy disagreements at the summit — especially on the Iran nuclear deal and climate change. After some compromises, both of those issues made it into the communiqué in a watered-down form.

The official also said Bolton himself pushed back against the idea of referring to the importance of preserving the rules-based international order in the communique.

Bolton writes that once the communiqué was drafted, "we were done with the G7, I thought."

That assumption proved to be premature.

The attack order on Trudeau

On a subsequent flight to Asia to meet with the leader of North Korea, Trump erupted in rage when he learned that Trudeau had once again complained about the U.S. tariffs at the closing news conference.

Trump then fired off tweets withdrawing support for the G7 communiqué — an action Bolton describes as unprecedented. 

He said the president woke up Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "throw a fit" about Trudeau's closing press conference.

Bolton said he then spoke with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who was scheduled to appear on Sunday TV talk shows.

"Trump's direction [to Kudlow] was clear: Just go after Trudeau. Don't knock the others. Trudeau's a 'behind your back guy,'" Bolton writes.

He says there was no doubt that Trump wanted Kudlow and fellow White House aide Peter Navarro to attack Trudeau.

Navarro also went on TV and said there was a "special place in hell" for Trudeau because of the way he treated Trump.

Tensions between the Canadian and American leaders have ebbed and flowed in the two years since that notorious meeting.

G7 leaders wait for Trump to join them for a family photo in Charlevoix, Que., on June 8, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Eventually, U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs were removed on Canada and Mexico. Kudlow, meanwhile, has since told reporters that he and Trudeau shared a friendly moment later in 2018 and patched things up at that year's G20 meeting in Argentina.

Bolton's dig at Chretien over Huawei

Bolton's book also takes a quick dig at former prime minister Jean Chrétien. It involves Chrétien's suggestion that Canada should free Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, in Canadian custody pending extradition to the U.S.

"Never a friend of the U.S., [Chrétien] was arguing that Canada should simply not abide by our extradition treaty," he writes.

"[Vice President Mike] Pence, Pompeo and I all urged Canada to stand firm, stressing we would support them every way we could, including directly raising with China the mistreatment of Canadian citizens." 


Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.