THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 16, Season 10
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump
Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block, America divided. Insurrection as thousands storm the U.S. Capitol. Trump cedes the election.
President Donald Trump: “A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Meanwhile in Canada, skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations. So why is Canada’s vaccine rollout so slow?
Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “All of Ontario will be out of Pfizer vaccines by the end of next week. We’re all hopeful the federal government will get us more vaccines.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We’re on track to deliver approximately 1.3 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of January.”
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, January 10th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
The corrosive effect of disinformation, lies and attacks on democratic institutions burst into full and shocking view in Washington on Wednesday, as thousands of people overran the U.S. Capitol in what became a deadly act of insurrection.
President-elect Joe Biden has condemned it as domestic terrorism. In the wake of this incident, President Donald Trump finally acknowledged losing the election. But there are many questions about what is next for the United States after this once unthinkable act has happened.
I spoke with former national security advisor to President Trump, Ambassador John Bolton, about that. Here is that conversation.
Ambassador, thank you so much for making time for us this morning and for joining us on the show again.
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well thanks for having me. I’m glad to be with you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Sir, last week we heard President Trump finally concede defeat publicly. But he also said “the journey is only just beginning.” A lot of people are wondering where this goes next. What do you think the president meant by that? “The journey is just beginning.” Is he still encouraging people to engage in this kind of sedition?
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well it’s not clear what he meant. Although, I think he said in other context he is forecasting a run for the Republication nomination in 2024. I personally don’t think people actually do that, because he doesn’t want to risk losing again and he does know that he has lost and simply won’t admit it. But it’s also a device to keep himself involved in politics and to get the attention that he wants, which is what he really craves. He has no philosophy. He doesn’t have policies. He has only Donald Trump and that’s what the centre of his world is. I think more broadly, there’s a lot of damage that he’s caused to the country that has to be repaired into the Republican Party and I think there are already significant conversations going on about how to eliminate the Trump influence that’s caused so much damage.
Mercedes Stephenson: Two of the ways that are being discussed to eliminate it right away would be either invoking the 25th Amendment or impeachment. Do you believe that President Trump should be removed from office using either of those methods to just end it now?
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well there are three ways to do it. One is as The Wall Street Journal has said this morning that Trump should resign. So just to be clear, I favour Trump resigning as well. That is the least likely outcome. He will never resign, but just to make sure everybody understands it. The next two: 25th Amendment and impeachment, to take them one at a time, Section 4 of Article 25 of the 25th Amendment, which is what we’re talking about here, has never been used—has never been used before. It is intended to cover a situation where a president has a heart attack or a stroke and is flat on his back unconscious at Walter Reed Hospital and something has to be done to get an active, acting president. But Section 4 has never been used because it’s very dangerous and in this case, unworkable. It provides. And people need to understand this before they throw it around too glibly, that the vice president and the majority of the cabinet need to say that they think the president is unable to fulfill the powers and duties of his office. Not that he’s not fit, unable. And if you just pause for a moment, you’ll acknowledge I think that the complaint about Donald Trump here is not that he’s unable to fulfill the duties and powers of his office but that he’s all too able to do it. So leaving that small Constitutional point aside, once the vice president rounds up a majority of the cabinet and says the president is not able to carry out his duties, the president can write back and say yes, I am. And if the dispute continues, it goes to Congress, which has 21 days to decide who the acting president is. There are 12 days left in the Trump administration and one has to ask oneself, if you’re trying to make the situation better, is it better to risk having two presidents for 12 days? Does that really make the situation better? That’s why I say, the 25th Amendment, Section 4 is not intended to cover the situation. It is not a licence to a coup. So I think this is a very delicate question and I don’t think you can carry the argument that we’ll be better off with the possibility of two presidents, because Trump will simply not acquiesce and there’s one further operational point. As Trump learns that the vice president is out there rounding up cabinets, which I expect he will. If Vice President Pence could keep this secret, it would be the only thing in the Trump administration that is not leaked. So he’s out there rounding up cabinet signatures and Donald Trump is firing the people who are signing and putting in an acting secretary who won’t sign the next letter. So I just think this is a fool’s errand. I understand why people are interested in it, but I think it’s dangerous. I think having two presidents is very dangerous and I don’t think it’ll work.
Mercedes Stephenson: What about impeachment?
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well, I think they’re welcome to try but I think it’s the same cost benefit question has to be asked. Is it going to make the situation better to try and impeach Trump? Or is it better just to grit our teeth, get him out office in 12 days and leave it to prosecutors around the country to deal with him once he’s out of office?
Mercedes Stephenson: But do you think that his followers, the people who he has fed these lies to about the election being stolen, will they stop when he’s out of office when he’s not feeding that fire every day?
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well, I think there’s serious work to be done to correct the lies and misimpressions about the election being stolen and other things that Trump has put out there in the past three or four months, but I think it’s a mistake to treat public opinion like a block of granite: unmoveable, unchangeable, unalterable. There’s nothing like a Democratic president in the White House to get people to stop paying attention to Donald Trump and to focus on what the new president is doing. I think people, if I may say so respectfully, in the news media, should not succumb to what I call “presentism” that they look at what’s happening today and say it’ll be like that tomorrow. That’s true for 12 more days—noon on the 20th of January, the world changes in immeasurable ways. But one of the ways that it will change is Donald Trump’s influence will drop dramatically.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are American Republican law makers, Congress people and senators who amplified Donald Trump’s message, who encouraged people to engage in the kind of behaviour that we saw last week. How do you think they should be held accountable?
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well, I think, you know, I believe in the people holding people accountable. I think elections are the way you do this. I think criminalizing politics is not a great idea. I think that’s what third world countries do. And I think there’s a growing sentiment that those who enabled Trump, who emboldened him, who supported him in his various efforts to convince people that the election was stolen, I think they’re going to pay a severe political price. I don’t think there is any silver lining in what happened on Wednesday, but I tell you people are fleeing from Donald Trump as they say in the South like “scalded dogs”. They don’t want anything to do with him and with very good reason. I think this trend will continue and accelerate.
Mercedes Stephenson: There’s no chance he’s going to go and try to run for governor in say, Georgia, for example, which some people have speculated might be his next step.
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: He’s not a bright man, but he’s not that stupid.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador John Bolton, thank you so much for joining us today, sir.
Ambassador John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Thanks for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, a look inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday: an interview with a journalist who was in the thick of it. British ITV correspondent Robert Moore takes us inside the chaos.
Mercedes Stephenson: The world was watching as Trump supporters smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol building last week. They could be seen putting their feet up on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s desk, riffling through sensitive paperwork in office, stealing podiums and attacking police officers and threatening journalists.
Right there in the thick of it was British ITV correspondent Robert Moore, who captured the stunning footage that went viral on the internet. I spoke with Robert about his experience late last week.
Robert, thank you so much for joining us. I have to tell you, I watched your piece and it’s just an incredible piece of journalism. I don’t know how you wrote something that eloquent after being in that kind of an experience and on such short notice. It’s been all over the internet. People are watching this, but also an incredibly dangerous experience too, I would think for you, being right inside the Capitol when this was happening. What was that like?
Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent: Well we did have one unique kind of vantage point, is that we were outside where the crowd of maybe 100, 150 very animated, very kind of angry pro-Trump supporters and we happened to be at the one spot of real vulnerability for the Capitol Hill police. They had just left exposed a small sort of route up through the marbled staircase on the exterior of Congress. So we arrived at a sort of terrace with the supporters and then to their surprise and to our astonishment, they found and discovered a kind of a doorway and a window that was also unsecure. So they smashed the window, they took off the door and then to their, you know, real surprise, we all suddenly sort of found ourselves stumbling into the halls of power. And these were protestors and pro-Trump supporters who never imagined that they would get the other side of the police lines and then suddenly find themselves right at Nancy Pelosi’s own office. And so there was a mix of emotion and of sound, of course. I mean, there was astonishment but there was also this seething anger that I think our report sort of captured, this sort of visceral sense that they were upset with the political establishment and this was payback and then blended with that were these kind of conspiracy theories that have been echoing around the sort of Trump orbit for more than four years now. So there was a lot going on, but it was anger that was really so palpable in the corridors of Congress at that moment, at about 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon.
Mercedes Stephenson: One of the criticisms we’ve heard, Robert, is that protestors were able to get past Capitol Hill police because this was a largely white protest and that if this had been the Black Lives Matter Movement, you would have seen a much more aggressive police response. And certainly, if you look at the pictures from the Black Lives Matter protests compared to this, there seemed to be far more police there in advance. I know you covered the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Washington, D.C. what do you make of that argument?
Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent: There’s no question that the police and the National Guard were hyper aggressive during the BLM marches and protests, you know, with a few notable exceptions where police kind of did try and collaborate with the BLM protestors and activists. I mean, overwhelmingly, there was aggressive, there was use of stun grenades and of mass arrests. So definitely there is a kind of a racial disparity in policing here that we saw yet again, but there is another sort of more nuance point I would also make, which is what did we actually want the Capitol Hill police to do on Wednesday? You know, they kind of surrendered the Capitol to these pro-Trump supporters, but you wish they’d used live rounds and batons and there’s been blood on the outside. So, you know, before we double guess the tactics and the strategy of the Capitol Hill police and indeed of Washington D.C.’s police force as well, I think we need to ask ourselves, look, you know, strategically, was it really that flawed? I mean they secured the chambers, they let their supporters sort of have the run of the building and then they evicted them. And, you know, of course, the narrative is that that was a disastrous decision, but also disastrous would have been, you know, serious fighting outside that could have led to more deaths and greater bloodshed. So, you know, I think we just have to balance that actually we can criticize the American policing as you in Canada and we in Britain of course often do, for being over militarized, but we should be careful before we criticize them also for giving way and trying to handle it without being hyper aggressive.
Mercedes Stephenson: Did you get a sense that there was a different standard here from the police, though, than what we saw earlier in the year with Black Lives Matter?
Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent: Absolutely. There’s no doubt there is that kind of racial disparity in how the police respond. I mean, you know, I saw it myself in Lafayette Square in early June, when, you know, I, myself, was hit by, you know, some pellets being fired by the police and there was, you know, real aggressive and I sensed that the protestors in that case were the enemy and on Wednesday, you know, there wasn’t that sense. So, there is that disparity and it plays into the whole understanding that there is this kind of dual standard in America’s policing and in its criminal justice system, something that I know, of course, that President-elect Joe Biden wants to handle. It was on, you know, stark display again this week, just like it was in early June.
Mercedes Stephenson: Robert, thank you for telling this story at risk to yourself and your dedication to the profession. We appreciate you being on today.
Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent: Well it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me on your show.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Canada’s vaccine rollout is off to a slow start. We’ll ask Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc why and what Ottawa plans to do about it.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Record setting COVID case numbers continue across the country, as do escalating deaths and hospitalizations. But Canada’s vaccine rollout, the greatest hope for a return to normal social lives and a vital key to the economic recovery of this country, have remained sluggish and behind schedule.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province will run out of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of this week. And the federal government has promised to scale up quantities, but when and how much?
Joining me to talk about this is Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc. How are you, Minister?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Well thank you, Mercedes. Happy New Year.
Mercedes Stephenson: Happy New Year to you too. And certainly lots of Canadians are looking forward to 2021 as the year when they will be able to receive the vaccine. But the rollout has been slow, it’s been behind schedule. You have premiers across the country saying they’re about to run out of the vaccine. It is the federal government’s job to procure that vaccine. How did we get into this situation?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: So I would say, Mercedes that we’re not actually behind schedule. We’re ahead of schedule. We’re ahead of schedule in the sense that we were not expecting to receive doses of the vaccine in December. We were able to get almost half a million doses from Pfizer in December. The Moderna doses have also come sooner than we had been expecting and that the premiers had been expecting. So I’m very confident that over the coming weeks, you’re going to see a very considerable scale-up across the country in terms of provinces immunizing their citizens.
Mercedes Stephenson: As of right now, this is a list of the number of countries that are ahead of Canada in terms of the number of people who’ve been vaccinated, the U.S., China, Israel, the U.K., United Arab Emirates, Russia, Germany and Spain. Do you think that it’s acceptable that Canada is behind all of those countries in terms of number of people vaccinated?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Again, I would—on that list of countries, I would be interested to know how many of them were vaccinated with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are the two that Canada, the United States, a number of other countries have said are safe and effective for use in our population. So we have focused on seven vaccine companies that we think are going to be amongst the most promising. We’re very enthusiastic, Mercedes, as I say, by the partnership between the Government of Canada and the provinces in terms of deploying these vaccines. And we’ve said from the beginning, Canada’s been criticized because we have per capita bought more doses than any other country in the world, precisely because we wanted a series of potential options to get as quickly as possible, as many doses as possible to Canada and then of course, send them directly to the provinces for administration. So that process is well underway and as I say, it’s going to increase in some cases, exponentially over the coming weeks and well into the spring. So we’re on track and we’re very confident that Canadians will have access to the best vaccines in the world and at the end, we will have been seen to have been one of the most effective countries at deploying these vaccines.
Mercedes Stephenson: I take your point about having the most per capita but some of those are theoretical vaccines that haven’t been proven to work yet and have not been approved by Health Canada. Right now, Israel is vaccinating as many people as Canada has, approximately every two days. They made a deal with Pfizer. It’s been reported they paid a premium in order to get access to all those vaccines. Their entire population of almost 9 million people, they’re saying will be vaccinated by March. Has your government approached Pfizer to try to get them to accelerate the pace of vaccines and would you be willing to pay more to do that?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: So the answer is of course we’re in daily discussions with Pfizer and Moderna and other promising vaccine candidates. You’re right, that’s why we bought seven different ones because you’re correct, they may not all not ultimately be approved as safe and effective for Canadians. But certainly Pfizer is and we’re in daily discussions that have successfully advanced the delivery of doses to Canada. You’ll remember a month and a half ago, we weren’t expecting—provinces weren’t expecting to see those doses in December. We got half a million doses in December. It’s a small quantity, but that’s massively ramping up over the next number of weeks. And we’ve said from the beginning, price will not be a barrier for Canada getting as quickly as possible, all of the doses we need. So those companies know that it’s not some other country offering some premium that’s going to change the delivery date to Canada. We’ve said, and we’ve successfully negotiated with them, based on an extremely aggressive procurement strategy but that conversation is ongoing as I say, on a daily and weekly basis and we’re hopeful that we will see, again, advanced doses or doses that were scheduled for March arriving in February, doses that may have been coming in February, arriving in January. So obviously, that’s our hope and it’s the hope that’s shared by all the premiers, of course.
Mercedes Stephenson: Canada at this point, even with the acceleration, when you look at February, which is really when things are going to start to ramp up a little bit, we’ll be still vaccinating maybe about one thirtieth of the population. The Bank of Montreal says the slow vaccination rate could actually hinder Canada’s economic recovery. What assurances can you give to Canadians that you’re going to be able to deliver vaccines to the provinces before they run out?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Well, again, provinces don’t run out in the sense they know exactly how many doses are arriving this week and next week and the week after. So the idea that they say they run out, they knew how many were available and are sent on a per capita formula, which the premiers asked for. So they can’t run out of something they knew was a fixed quantity. I mean, obviously we would love to have as many doses…
Mercedes Stephenson: But how can they not run out? If they inject all those people, don’t they run out if they inject people? I mean, they literally don’t have vaccines to administer.
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Well yeah, but if you knew you had 200 thousand in a week, how sincere is it to say oh my God, at the end of the week we don’t have any more vaccines. Of course you don’t because there are more coming next week. And then the week after there is even more. So the word run out, I think is a bit simplistic. Canada is getting in an aggressive and effective way, as many doses as quickly as we can.
Mercedes Stephenson: And I’m Canadians will hope that politicians hear that message too about not taking vacations out of the country. Minster LeBlanc, that’s all the time we have. Thank you for joining us.
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Thank you for having me on your program, Mercedes. Have a great day.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block, and I will see you back here next Sunday.