Judge weighs U.S. bid to stop release of John Bolton's book

Eric Tucker
Associated Press

Washington — Former national security adviser John Bolton created a “mess” of his own making by moving to publish his book without receiving final authorization that the manuscript was free of classified information, Trump administration lawyers argued Friday in urging a judge to block the book’s release.

But a lawyer for Bolton described the government’s request as surreal and impractical, particularly since copies of the book have already been released to leading news media organizations and have received substantial publicity.

In this May 22, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-In in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as then-national security adviser John Bolton, right, watches.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth did not immediately rule, saying he wants to review additional information in a case that raises core First Amendment and national security concerns.

He pressed both sides on their positions, making it clear he was troubled by the government’s contention that Bolton had bailed prematurely on the prepublication review process designed to protect against the disclosure of classified information. But he also asked the Justice Department what he was supposed to do since “the horse seems to be out of the barn” now that copies of the book have been distributed.

Justice Department attorney David Morrell said Bolton should not be rewarded for a problem that he himself had created.

“He has flung the barnyard doors open. He has let the horses out, and now he looks at us collectively and says, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” Morrell said.

The Justice Department sued to halt next week’s release of “The Room Where it Happened,” insisting that the book contained classified information that could damage national security and that Bolton had failed to complete a prepublication review process.

Bolton’s lawyers argued that he had labored painstakingly for months with the White House to address concerns over classified information. In late April, Ellen Knight, the career official with whom he had worked most closely and who had done a line-by-line edit, notified him that she had completed her revisions and that the revised manuscript did not contain classified information. But another White House official soon after embarked on an additional review and identified material that he said was classified, prompting the administration to warn Bolton against publication.

That late-stage, end-round around Knight’s judgment by a political appointee was troubling, said Bolton attorney Chuck Cooper.

“The question becomes, Is she an authorized official? Well, there’s no doubt that she is. Did she confirm that the information is unclassified? There’s no dispute by the government that she did,” he added.

Bolton’s lawyers have argued that the White House assertions of classified material are a pretext to censor him over a book the administration simply finds unflattering.

“If the First Amendment stands for anything, it is that the Government does not have the power to clasp its hand over the mouth of a citizen attempting to speak on a matter of great public import,” they wrote in a court filing.

The book, due out Tuesday, depicts a president whose foreign policy objectives were inexorably linked to his own political gain. It recounts how Trump “pleaded” with China’s Xi Jinping during a 2019 summit to help his reelection prospects, and how he linked the supply of military assistance to Ukraine to the country’s willingness to conduct politically charged investigations into Biden – allegations that were at the heart of an impeachment trial that ended with the president’s acquittal in February.

Trump on Thursday called the book a “compilation of lies and made up stories” intended to make him look bad. He tweeted that Bolton was just trying to get even for being fired “like the sick puppy he is!”

Other administration officials who figure prominently in the book, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, denied comments or actions that were attributed to them and joined the president in condemning the book.

Even Democrats who seized on some of Bolton’s anecdotes to portray the president as unfit for office nonetheless expressed frustration that he had saved his damaging accounts for his book instead of sharing them in the impeachment case.