This is a journalist who doesn’t mince her words: a talent that came to the fore this week as she interviewed John Bolton, the former national security advisor to Donald Trump’s administration.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Bolton is the one-time White House insider whom Trump fired last year, after the pair fell out over a series of key foreign policy decisions.
Tensions escalated after Bolton published a bombshell memoir, The Room Where it Happened, which paints an extraordinary picture of Trump’s fumbling approach to international politics. This includes allegations that the president thought it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela, asked Chinese President President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election, and confused Finland with Russia.
The big question that remains, however, is why the man Trump now lambasts as a “wacko” and a “sick puppy” refused to testify at the president’s impeachment process last year. After all, he had some of the best access to the president and was in an excellent position to describe any political wrongdoings.
Instead of being a witness, however, Bolton chose to monetise his allegations against Trump in a $2million book deal.
It’s exactly this issue that Maitlis pinned him down on during her interview this week, as the two went head-to-head in a combative exchange on Newsnight.
“You refused to tell the American people what you saw and what you knew,” Maitlis put to Bolton, to which he argued “you are absolutely wrong about that”. As she interrupted his response, he snapped back irritably, “let me finish. Let me finish, OK?”
Unmoved, Maitlis replied, “Just answer the question if you can.”
At another point, she pushed him again about why he didn’t choose to “say out loud to the people of America” his allegations of Trump’s corruption.
Clearly flustered, Bolton started to raise his voice, saying: “Let me finish. Let me finish! […] It may be inconvenient to you as a television reporter who wants answers that last for 30 seconds but what I tried to do was lay out [Trump’s corruption] for voters to read.”
“I’m sure you did well in the book deal,” Maitlis went on pointedly. “But if Donald Trump gets re-elected […] presumably you will have to accept your part in that?”
Bolton replied defensively, saying: “Tell me something, do you work for free? Of course you [take a salary]. That’s why I got reimbursed for the book.”
Over on Twitter, viewers were quite to commend Maitlis’ ability to get to the crux of what she termed Bolton’s “betrayal” of the American people during the clash.
Trump was – predictably – acquitted by a Republican-led Senate earlier this year. It followed an impeachment process based around claims that he used military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into opening politically-motivated investigations against his election rival Joe Biden.
Since Bolton admits in his book that he was aware of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing in the matter, he could have been a key witness in proceedings: but he has since argued that his testimony would not have made a difference to the outcome in any case.
Maitlis’ clash with Bolton comes ahead of one of the most bitterly-fought and divisive US elections in modern history next week. Most polls currently put Biden just ahead of Trump in the presidential race, in a contest the Democrats are pitching as a fight to save America’s soul.