New York/Washington: The U.S. government sued to block the publication of a tell-all book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who claims President Donald Trump was willing to endanger the nation in order to be re-elected.
Bolton’s book — “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” — is due out on June 23 and has been touted by publisher Simon & Schuster as “the book Donald Trump doesn’t want you to read.”
The U.S. claims publication of the book would compromise national security. Bolton, who served as Trump’s top security aide from April 2018 to September 2019, regularly came into possession of “some of the most sensitive classified information that exists in the U.S. government,” according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington federal court.
Within two months of leaving his role, Bolton reportedly negotiated a book deal worth about $2 million and wrote a 500-plus page manuscript “rife with classified information,” the U.S. claims.
Bolton’s book joins a list of more than 20 written by former administration officials or others attempting to tell the inside story of Trump’s White House. Bolton paints an unflattering picture of Trump’s leadership, including revelations that the president’s foreign policy decisions were driven by political calculations, according to the publisher.
In the breach-of contract lawsuit, the government doesn’t seek an injunction that could have forced the publisher to put the book on hold. Experts had suggested that such an order would have been difficult to secure. The U.S. seeks to force Bolton to delay publication “insofar as he has the authority to do so” until the review is complete, and to retrieve any manuscripts that were sent to third parties.
That’s unlikely to happen, said Mark Zaid, a lawyer in Washington who has helped authors navigate the pre-publication review process.
At this late stage, the decision about whether to publish the book almost certainly rests with Simon & Schuster, not Bolton, given the way book contracts are typically written, Zaid said.
“As a legal matter, Bolton likely has zero say on the status of the book,” Zaid said. “So, this remedy does nothing with regard to stopping the book.”
Bolton’s lawyer Chuck Cooper said in a statement that the government’s complaint is being reviewed and he’ll “respond in due course.”
The National Security Council, which had a right to review a manuscript of Bolton’s book, identified “significant quantities of classified information” after receiving the draft in late December and asked Bolton to remove it, according to the complaint. Bolton didn’t wait for the review process to finish before announcing his plan to publish the book, it said.
Bolton violated his nondisclosure agreement even before publication by sharing the manuscript with others who then provided information about it to the press, according to the complaint.
The U.S. seeks a court order to force Bolton to complete the review process and not disclose any classified information. And it asked for an order to force Bolton to create a trust for the profits from the book if he doesn’t follow through with the review process.
Bolton cooperated fully with the National Security Council in its pre-publication review, Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for Simon & Schuster, said in a statement Tuesday.
The lawsuit 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,” Rothberg said. “Simon & Schuster fully supports his First Amendment right to tell the story of his time in the White House to the American public.”
Prior restraints on publication have been deemed unconstitutional ever since the Supreme Court rejected a similar attempt by the Nixon administration to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers, according to Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
The lawsuit is “doomed to fail,” Wizner said in a statement. “As usual, the government’s threats have nothing to do with safeguarding national security, and everything to do with avoiding scandal and embarrassment,” he said.
In a June 10 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Cooper said the book went through “perhaps the most extensive and intensive prepublication review in NSC history.” Cooper accused the administration of using “national security as a pretext to censor” Bolton.
The lawsuit sets up a high-profile clash between Trump and his former foreign policy adviser after Bolton quit amid disagreements with the president over foreign policy. Bolton had suggested he had information that hadn’t been provided to House committees investigating the president’s dealings with Ukraine in impeachment hearings. Trump responded by attacking Bolton on Twitter.
Bolton didn’t testify at the impeachment hearings, saying he needed an order from a judge to do so.
“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,” Simon & Schuster said in previewing what Bolton wrote in the book. “Bolton documents exactly what those were, and attempts by him and others in the administration to raise alarms about them.”
Trump told reporters on June 15 that it’s “totally inappropriate” for Bolton to publish a book and the former national security adviser would have “criminal problems” if he went ahead.
“Even conversations with me, they’re highly classified,” Trump said. “I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified.”
The president may have to deal with more unflattering depictions of himself in another soon-to-be-published book.
Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, plans to reveal her role as a primary source for the New York Times’ investigation into the president’s taxes in “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” which is due to be published on July 28, according to the Times.
The Daily Beast reported Tuesday that Trump has his lawyers looking into the matter. The publication cited a person with knowledge of the situation, whom it didn’t name, as saying the president appeared irked by news of the book and at one point mentioned that Mary had signed an non-disclosure agreement years ago.
The Bolton case echoes a suit filed by the federal government in September against Edward Snowden, accusing the former Central Intelligence Agency employee and National Security Agency contractor of failing to submit his book, “Permanent Record,” for pre-publication review by the agencies. Snowden, who exposed U.S. secrets in 2013, claims the government had no intention of reviewing the book in good faith and plans to fight the lawsuit. A final pre-trial hearing is set for July 17. –Bloomberg