WASHINGTON — For weeks, Washington has waited to hear what he had to say. So when John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, popped back up on Twitter on Friday morning with a teasing message, it sent the town, well, all atwitter.
“Glad to be back on Twitter after more than two months,” Mr. Bolton wrote. “For the backstory, stay tuned……..”
Was he finally going to describe his internal opposition to President Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for damaging information about his Democratic rivals? Would he confirm that he called the whole thing a metaphorical “drug deal” and considered Rudolph W. Giuliani a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up”?
Sorry, no go. Over the course of the day, Mr. Bolton posted a few more messages — not about the Ukraine matter that has propelled his former boss to the edge of impeachment but about his own two-month battle to “liberate” his Twitter account, as he put it, from a White House that refused to give it back when he resigned in September in a flurry of acrimony.
Anyone who knows Mr. Bolton should never have thought he would actually spill on Twitter. A Yale-trained lawyer, he has made clear he is waiting for a court to tell him whether he has to testify, relying on a lawsuit filed by a deputy that will be argued on Dec. 10. While former colleagues have issued public statements, Mr. Bolton’s legal team believes making any public comments could be interpreted as waiving any claim of immunity — he could hardly claim confidentiality with Congress and then tell all on Twitter.
But Washington got excited all the same. And Mr. Bolton seemed to enjoy the tease. He issued a handful of additional tweets, spaced out with hours in between, building up interest. Along the way, he attracted tens of thousands of new followers, topping 800,000 by the end of the business day.
“We have now liberated the Twitter account, previously suppressed unfairly in the aftermath of my resignation as National Security Advisor,” he wrote. “More to come…..”
Three hours later, he added: “Re: speaking up — since resigning as National Security Advisor, the @WhiteHouse refused to return access to my personal Twitter account. Out of fear of what I may say? To those who speculated I went into hiding, I’m sorry to disappoint!”
Mr. Bolton, it turned out, had turned over control of his personal Twitter account to the White House when he joined the National Security Council last year. An avid Twitter user since 2010, Mr. Bolton brought a strong following to the new job and wanted it back when he left. In fact, he used the account moments after leaving the White House in September to accuse the president of not telling the truth about his departure.
After Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Sept. 10 that he had fired him, Mr. Bolton tweeted 12 minutes later that that was not true. “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow,’” Mr. Bolton wrote, without elaborating.
That was his last tweet until Friday. Shortly afterward, he discovered that he no longer had control of the account. The White House had evidently changed his password and his verifying email address.
“The White House attached software to the account,” Mr. Bolton said by telephone on Friday. “They would not give it back. A representative of mine spoke with John Eisenberg, who said he would get it released, and it never happened. So finally we went to Twitter.”
Mr. Eisenberg is the top National Security Council lawyer and himself a player in the Ukraine drama. It was not clear what kind of software Mr. Bolton was referring to, but it appeared related to government efforts to archive messages in keeping with presidential records law.
Mr. Trump denied freezing Mr. Bolton’s account. “No, of course not. Of course not,” he said when asked on Friday on “Fox and Friends.” “No, I actually had a good relationship with John. We disagreed on some things and some methods, but I actually had a good relationship.”
No one from the White House or the National Security Council would say on the record whether anyone else in the building refused to surrender control of Mr. Bolton’s account or why. But an administration official who insisted on anonymity denied that the White House blocked him from gaining access to his account and said it would not know how to do that.