The Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against John Bolton on Tuesday, seeking to block the publication and sale of his new White House memoir, arguing the former national security adviser’s book contains classified information that cannot be released to the public.
“This is a civil action by the United States to prevent Defendant John R. Bolton, a former National Security Advisor, from compromising national security by publishing a book containing classified information — in clear breach of agreements he signed as a condition of his employment and as a condition of gaining access to highly classified information and in clear breach of the trust placed within him by the United States Government,” reads the opening of the 116-page court filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The lawsuit made various entreaties to the court to stop the book from being published, but the lawsuit did not appear to include the temporary restraining order request typically needed to stop a book from actually being sold. The complaint also focused on the government’s pursuit of any profits from the book’s sale — an effort in which experts believe the government will likely prevail.
Bolton, who left the White House last September after a year and a half in the Trump administration, was originally wanted to publish his highly-anticipated book, The Room Where It Happened, in early 2020, but numerous rounds of prepublication review for classified information by the National Security Council pushed the book’s sale date back. Bolton and his publisher now argue that they have adhered to classification rules and forged ahead with a June 23 publishing date despite continued objections from the government.
The Justice Department said it “seeks an order requiring Defendant to abide by his contractual and fiduciary duties to complete the prepublication review process and not disclose classified information without written authorization.” The court filing added that “because that prepublication review process is ongoing, the United States also seeks an order directing Defendant to specifically perform his contractual obligations by taking all actions within his power to stop the publication and dissemination of his book as currently drafted.”
The Trump administration noted Bolton “has already taken steps to disclose or publish the manuscript to unauthorized persons without prior written authorization” and so “the United States also seeks an order establishing a constructive trust on any profits obtained from the disclosure or dissemination” of the book.
Bolton, the Justice Department said, “struck a bargain with the United States as a condition of his employment in one of the most sensitive and important national security positions in the United States Government and now wants to renege on that bargain by unilaterally deciding that the prepublication review process is complete and deciding for himself whether classified information should be made public.”
Adam Rothberg, the senior vice president for corporate communications at Simon & Schuster, released a statement, saying in part that “the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice to block John Bolton from publishing his book … is nothing more than the latest in a long running series of efforts by the Administration to quash publication of a book it deems unflattering to the President.”
“This is the book Donald Trump doesn’t want you to read. There hasn’t been a detailed, inside account on how this president makes decisions on a day-to-day basis, until now,” Simon & Schuster declared last week. “He argues that the House committed impeachment malpractice by keeping their prosecution focused narrowly on Ukraine when Trump’s Ukraine-like transgressions existed across the full range of his foreign policy.”
Deputy White House counsel John Eisenberg told Bolton’s lawyers in a letter obtained by the Associated Press not to move ahead with publishing the book, warning: “As we advised your client when he signed the nondisclosure agreements, and as he should be well as aware as Assistant to the President for the National Security Affairs in this administration, the unauthorized disclosure of classified information could be exploited by a foreign power, thereby causing significant harm to the national security of the United States.”
Simon & Schuster, however, said that “in the months leading up to the publication… Bolton worked in cooperation with the National Security Council to incorporate changes to the text that addressed NSC concerns” and that “the final, published version of this book reflects those changes, and Simon & Schuster is fully supportive of Ambassador Bolton’s First Amendment rights to tell the story of his time in the Trump White House.”
President Trump hinted at the lawsuit on Monday, telling reporters that “when you do classified, that to me is a very strong criminal problem, and he knows he’s got classified information.” Attorney General William Barr said, “The thing that is front and center right now is trying to get him to complete the process, go through the process, and make the necessary deletions of classified information.”
Bolton’s lawyer, Chuck Cooper, argued in the Wall Street Journal last week that Ellen Knight, the NSC’s senior director for prepublication review of materials written by NSC personnel, and Bolton’s team had engaged in “perhaps the most extensive and intensive prepublication review in NSC history,” going through the 500-page manuscript four times, often line by line.
“This last-minute allegation came after an intensive four-month review, after weeks of silence from the White House, and — as Mr. Eisenberg admits in his letter — after press reports alerted the White House that Mr. Bolton’s book would be published on June 23,” Cooper argued. “This is a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import. This attempt will not succeed, and Mr. Bolton’s book will be published June 23.”
Bradley Moss, a longtime national security lawyer and Trump critic, told the Washington Examiner that “today’s civil lawsuit was expected and will be easy as pie for DOJ to win” because “the case law is clear on what Bolton had to do regarding prepublication review approval, he didn’t complete that process, and DOJ will now get all the monetary proceeds from the book.” Moss said “the $64,000 question is if they pursue criminal charges for disseminating classified information.”
The New York Times reported Bolton’s book will claim Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue holding up nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine until that country’s leaders agreed to help with investigations into allegations of corruption related to Joe and Hunter Biden.
Trump responded by tweeting: “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”
Bolton ultimately offered to testify in the impeachment trial earlier this year only if the Republican-led Senate issued a subpoena against him, which the upper chamber declined to do. The Democrat-led House had asked Bolton to testify but, after he refused, declined to issue a subpoena to compel his testimony through the courts.
The House impeached Trump on allegations of abuse of power related to Ukraine and of obstruction of Congress in December, but the Senate acquitted him following an impeachment trial in February.