The U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. has filed a lawsuit against former National Security Adviser John Bolton, seeking to block publication of his upcoming tell-all book, The Room Where It Happened.
Lawyers for the United States claim the book holds classified information and its publication would disclose secrets that could harm national security. Trump administration lawyers call the book “a clear breach of the trust placed within him by the United States Government.”
They’re seeking an injunction against Bolton, who served as National Security Adviser from April 2018 to September 2019, that would prevent him from publishing the book in its current form or give the U.S. government all proceeds from book sales if he goes ahead and publishes anyway.
Lawyers for the Trump administration excoriated Bolton in summing up their allegations: “Simply put, Defendant 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.”
Bolton responded to the suit first via Twitter, where he retweeted the American Civil Liberties Union and the PEN America Foundation.
“Please see the @ACLU statement on my upcoming book release,” he wrote.
The A.C.L.U. blasted the suit as “unconstitutional and un-American.” PEN America said much the same.
“This attempt by the Trump administration to block the publication of John Bolton’s memoir is doomed to fail,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “A half-century ago the Supreme Court rejected a similar attempt by the Nixon administration to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and since then it has been firmly established that prior restraints on publication are unconstitutional and un-American.”
Bolton allegedly had drafted a 500-page manuscript and negotiated a book deal worth $2 million within two months of leaving the administration. The suit, filed in Washington federal court, alleges Bolton initially complied with the review process required of him as a former member of the National Security Council and removed a large amount of classified information from the initial version of the book. He submitted the book for review in January.
“Rather than wait for the process to conclude, Defendant decided to take matters into his own hands.” Press reports revealed the book’s publication date to the Trump administration, not Bolton himself, according to the suit. U.S. attorneys claim he had not completed the review process and violated non-disclosure agreements by sharing some of the contents of the book. The book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has told reporters the book has already been printed, bound, and shipped to warehouses in advance of its debut.
Charles Cooper, Bolton’s lawyer, has said the former national security adviser met all requirements of the review process and had already made changes to the book “in cooperation with the National Security Council.” He said he was told in April that the NSC’s review of the book was complete.
Simon & Schuster backed up Bolton in a statement and said he had complied with the N.S.C. The publisher called the suit “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.”
Despite the theater of a lawsuit and Bolton’s multiple news appearances on nationally syndicated news, the suit may, in fact, thwart the former Trump confidante and would-be author. Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer with the firm Mark S. Zaid, P.C., told The Daily Beast, “This is a standard breach of contract lawsuit that is routinely brought against those who publish books without getting proper prepublication review approval. Unless Mr. Bolton has a rabbit to pull out of his hat, he’ll never see a dime from the proceeds of the sale of his book. Of course, that may not have been relevant to his strategy from the beginning.”
After his departure from the White House and very public falling out with the Trump administration, Bolton repeatedly signaled he might have bombshells he was hoping to share, particularly about Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
Last November, his lawyer told lawmakers he had inside knowledge about “many relevant meetings and conversations” linked to Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukrainian leaders, which was at the heart of impeachment proceedings against the president. He also claimed at one point that the White House had seized control of his Twitter account, pondering if it was “out of fear of what I may say?”