The question now becomes when — and whether — Bolton’s book will come out, and if it will include any revelations that stick, fueling President Donald Trump’s critics who are already going after him for his coronavirus response and reaction to the police brutality protests. Previous memoirs have sparked raging fires only to burn out quickly, dominating the news cycle for several days before receding into the Trump presidency dustbin. In the end, the fight between the two sides lingers more in the public conscience than the content of the book itself. And Trump relishes a fight.
“Because of the detail and Bolton’s seriousness, if this is a hit job everyone should be concerned,” said one senior administration official, who requested anonymity to talk about speculation surrounding the book. “But if it’s a more balanced, honest discussion about policy there could be an upside to it.”
Realistically, though, the official added, “In terms of it being a game changer, I feel like people’s minds are made up. You agree with the policies the president has implemented or not.”
The lawsuit, a civil action filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that Bolton risks “compromising national security by publishing a book containing classified information — in clear breach of agreements he signed as a condition of his employment.”
The lawsuit asks the court to order Bolton to both complete a prepublication review process that has stalled, while stopping the publication and dissemination of his book “as currently drafted.”
It also seeks an order “establishing a constructive trust on any profits obtained from the disclosure or dissemination” of the book, effectively tying up any proceeds Bolton would obtain from its release.
“We are reviewing the government’s complaint, and will respond in due course,” Charles Cooper, Bolton’s attorney said on Tuesday night. Bolton’s attorney has disputed that the manuscript contains classified material.
Legal experts pointed out that there is significant risk for Bolton, although it was notable the publisher, Simon & Schuster, was not named in the lawsuit.
“The government will now almost certainly get all of the money from sales of the book, but if Bolton isn’t also criminally charged you have to believe he is taking a victory lap in the end,” said national security lawyer Bradley Moss. “The book will have been published and the embarrassing details will be everywhere in the lead up to Election Day.”
One former administration official noted that unlike some of the other current White House memoir writers, Bolton had more access to the president and had a front-row seat for some of the more controversial moments of his presidency, like a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Bolton was known to take copious notes during his meetings on a legal pad, and officials have noted his strong memory.
For a president who demands loyalty, many of his former advisers and officials have come out with critical books about their time at the White House.
Reality television star-turned senior aide Omarosa Maningault Newman infuriated the president when she wrote an account of her time in the West Wing, “Unhinged,” that alleged Trump is a “racist, misogynist and bigot” who had used the “n-word” repeatedly. Another memoir by a Trump aide, Cliff Sims, revealed some embarrassing anecdotes about the president. The Trump campaign took legal action against Newman and Sims for violating non-disclosure agreements, and both were subjected to a flurry of angry Trump tweets. Trump called Newman a “dog” and said Sims was “nothing more than a gofer.”
It’s expected Bolton will face a similar response from the president. Already, he sought to discredit his former national security adviser, questioning his honesty.
“Maybe he’s not telling the truth,” Trump said Monday when asked about the book. “He’s been known not to tell the truth, a lot.”
Trump allies have also taken to Twitter to attack Bolton. Campaign adviser Jason Miller started using the hashtag #BookDealBolton on Twitter to paint the conservative foreign policy firebrand as an opportunist who cashed in on his access. Others have asked why Bolton purports to reveal about Trump’s foreign policy dealings yet chose not to testify during impeachment hearings.
“Bolton’s going to be in for a real rude awakening next week. He’s not going to get any love from the right, but also I think he’s going to get a lot of really rude awakening from the left who are asking why he saved all of this for a book?” said one Trump adviser. “I don’t know where he’s going to find any audience who’s going to want to run to embrace the guy.”
Just one month after Bolton’s acrimonious departure from the administration, the ex-adviser announced his plans to write a book about his experience in the White House. According to the publisher, the book will reveal “chaos in the White House, sure, but also assessments of major players, the president’s inconsistent, scattershot decision-making process, and his dealings with allies and enemies alike.”
“I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations,” a press release said Bolton writes in the book.
Bolton also writes that House Democrats “committed impeachment malpractice” by only focusing on the president’s phone call with the president of Ukraine when there were “Ukraine-like transgressions … across the full range of his foreign policy.”
Despite the bombshell allegations Bolton reportedly made in a draft of his manuscript, he did not cooperate with impeachment proceedings and Senate Republicans failed to subpoena him or other key witnesses.
For months, the 592-page memoir has been the subject of a public spat between the White House and the publisher, Simon & Schuster, as the National Security Council reviewed the manuscript for classified information. Bolton’s attorney was informed that the review process was completed in late April, but last week, the NSC informed Bolton that further review was needed.
“In the months leading up to the publication of ‘The Room Where It Happened,’ Bolton worked in cooperation with the National Security Council to incorporate changes to the text that addressed NSC concerns,” wrote Julia Prosser, the publicity director for the publishing house. “The final, published version of this book reflects those changes.”
The NSC’s pre-publication review process is normally fairly straightforward, but Bolton’s case has been complicated by its potentially politically explosive allegations — including details about Trump’s alleged Ukraine-style blackmail threats to other countries that were not documented during Trump’s impeachment trial.
Bolton’s book also alleges that the president told him last August he wanted to keep withholding military aid from Ukraine until officials there pledged to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden — making Bolton the only first-hand witness to that request, according to a New York Times account of the chapter. The story, published in The New York Times, raised the pressure on the White House and the GOP to clear Bolton’s book and allow him to testify in the impeachment trial. Bolton ultimately refused to testify.
The suit comes after Trump hinted earlier this week that the administration would be taking Bolton to court, saying he would “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.”
A Simon & Schuster spokesman called the lawsuit “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.”
Upon submitting the book for review in December, Cooper, Bolton’s attorney argued that his client “carefully sought to avoid any discussion in the manuscript of sensitive compartmentalized information (“SCI”) or other classified information.”
And Cooper argued in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that the White House was merely trying to suppress Bolton’s book “to prevent embarrassment” rather than to protect national security secrets, pointing to “perhaps the most extensive and intensive prepublication review in NSC history” in which Bolton and the NSC spent almost four months, beginning in late January, “going through the nearly 500-page manuscript four times, often line by line.”