President Trump hinted the Justice Department may soon be fighting John Bolton in federal court to block the sale of the former national security adviser’s White House memoir over claims it contains classified information.
“When you do classified, that to me is a very strong criminal problem, and he knows he’s got classified information,” Trump said during a White House event on Monday. “Any conversation with me is classified, then it becomes even worse if he lies about the conversation, which I understand he might have in some cases. So, we’ll see what happens. They’re in court, or they’ll soon be in court, but he understands he did not complete a process or anywhere near complete a process.”
Bolton, who left the White House last September after a year and a half in the Trump administration, was originally looking 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 they have adhered to classification rules and forged ahead with a June 23 publishing date despite continued objections from the government.
The Justice Department is planning to file a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the book in its current form, according to sources cited by ABC News on Monday.
“If he wrote a book, I can’t imagine that he can, because that’s highly classified information. Even conversations with me, they’re highly classified,” Trump said Monday. “I told that to the attorney general before. I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified. So that would mean that if he wrote a book, and if the book gets out, he’s broken the law, and I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.”
Trump added that “it’s up to the attorney general.”
Attorney General William Barr, who was in the room, repeatedly said Bolton “hasn’t completed” the classification review process, but declined to say whether a lawsuit was imminent.
“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,” Barr said.
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 roughly 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.”
Barr disagreed, saying on Monday: “People who come to work in the government and have access to sensitive information generally sign an agreement that says that, when they leave government, if they write something that draws on or might reflect some of the information they may have had access to, they have to go through a clearance process before they can publish the book.” He said that “we don’t believe that Bolton went through that process — hasn’t completed the process — and therefore is in violation of the agreement.”
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.”
“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.”
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 denied this conversation happened and accused Bolton of just trying 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.