Former National Security Adviser John Bolton is connecting President Trump directly to the administration’ effort to block the publication Bolton’s new book.
Bolton called the White House’s handling of the book “a determined political effort to suppress” his speech. The claims were made in court filings Bolton submitted Thursday in the case the Justice Department brought against him for his new book trying to block its publication and obtain his earnings from sales of the book.
Bolton is asking the court to dismiss the DOJ lawsuit and deny its emergency request to block release of the tell-all — a request that Bolton said was not “plausible.”
The Justice Department has alleged that Bolton’s book divulges classified information that could threaten national security, and that Bolton breached his NDA by not completing a prepublication review with the government of the manuscript. The government is asking for a court to prevent not just Bolton — but his publisher and third party booksellers — from disclosing its contents.
Much of Bolton’s response detailed just how “surreal” that emergency request was given that the book has already been shipped out to booksellers and members of the media. He noted, for instance, that a White House reporter questioned Trump’s press secretary on Thursday while holding the book in her hand. He also provided a declaration from his publisher indicating that it has “no control” over the thousands of copies that have already been distributed.
Bolton alleged that the White House, under Trump’s direction, had slow-walked the review of the manuscript in order to prevent Bolton’s “embarrassing” account of the President’s conduct from coming out before the election.
“[I]t is difficult to conceive of a greater attack on the First Amendment than the suppression of that speech in the service of a reelection campaign,” Bolton said.
Like litigants before him, he leaned heavily on President Trump’s own public statements and tweets.
Bolton pointed to tweets by the President in January, not long after Bolton submitted the manuscript for review, in which Trump called it “nasty & untrue,” while claiming that it was “All Classified National Security.” He also noted Trump’s comments to reporters earlier this week claiming “any conversation with me is classified” and promising “criminal problems” for Bolton.
Bolton additionally referenced press reports from recent months detailing the interest Trump expressed privately towards blocking the book.
Bolton cited these examples of Trump’s conduct to argue that the prepublication review process had been “corrupted.” Bolton said that the claims the government is now making about classified information in the book were “pretextual and in bad faith.”
“It is clear from this evidence that the White House has abused the prepublication-review and classification process, and has asserted fictional national security concerns as a pretext to censor, or at least to delay indefinitely, Ambassador Bolton’s right to speak,” Bolton said.
It’s unclear how much of an impact the President’s apparent role in seeking to block Bolton’s book will play in the legal issues at stake in the case.
The initial lawsuit the Justice Department filed Tuesday appeared primarily focused on recouping Bolton’s earnings from the book. National security lawyers told TPM that the breach-of-contract allegations were clear-cut and that the law was heavily in DOJ’s favor in that matter.
However, the emergency request that the Justice Department filed on Wednesday to block release of the book — a request that was filed after the most damning revelations from it began appearing in the press — is much more of a long shot, First Amendment scholars told TPM.
Several First Amendment groups and media outlets filed friend-of-the court briefs overnight arguing against the emergency request.
The ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University called the DOJ’s request “outlandish” and said it would be a “a grave constitutional misstep” if it was granted.
A collection of media outlets said the DOJ’s arguments aimed at the publisher were “extraordinary,” “unconstitutional,” and “untethered” to the law.
The Justice Department said that it could point to examples of the classified material in Bolton’s book, but the descriptions of those passages were filed in camera, ex parte — meaning that no one besides the judge for the moment can independently assess the claims.
There will be a virtual hearing on the DOJ’s emergency request on Friday at 1 p.m. ET.
The case is before U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Reagan-appointee who has shown an independent streak when it comes to pushing back on government claims about classified information.
Read Bolton’s filings below: