The Justice Department just took its crusade against John Bolton’s book to 11.
On Wednesday evening, after news outlets started reporting on some of the book’s most damning revelations, the Justice Department filed in court an emergency request to block the publication of the tell-all.
The new filing came in the same civil lawsuit the Justice Department filed Tuesday aimed at recouping whatever earnings Bolton made from the book.
In an unusual move, the government is seeking an order would effectively halt third parties, such as the book stores that have already received copies of Bolton’s book, from distributing it.
The filing requested a hearing on the matter on Friday, ahead of the Tuesday publication date.
Much of the Justice Department’s filing recounted what it had previously said about Bolton allegedly breaching his NDA by moving forward with publishing his book, despite having not gotten a final approval from the prepublication review of the manuscript.
Bolton’s lawyer has suggested that the prepublication review was stalled for political reasons, citing the informal okay Bolton received from a career classification expert before a political appointee intervened in the process.
The political appointee, National Security Council Senior Director for Intelligence Programs Michael Ellis, filed a declaration in the case claiming that Bolton’s manuscript contains classified information — some portions up to “several paragraphs” in length — that, if made public, could “reasonably be expected to cause damage, serious damage, or exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”
Ellis also filed in camera, ex parte — meaning the only the court will be able to view it — a description of the examples of the classified information that could be expected to “cause damage” to U.S. national security.
“Unlike ordinary confidential information the Government holds, the information at stake here is classified, including in some instances at the Secret or Top Secret/SCI levels, which means by definition that its disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage, or exceptionally grave damage, to the national security of the United States,” the DOJ filing said.
The Justice Department also filed public declarations from other officials, including Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe backing Ellis’ assessment of the risk to national security.
The filing was a major escalation from the Justice Department. The initial lawsuit the Department filed Tuesday appeared more aimed at punishing Bolton financially than preemptively blocking the book’s release.
National security law experts told TPM that the government had a strong case for recouping Bolton’s monetary earnings, but that the bar for preventing the book’s release was much higher. There are also practical issues in trying to stop the publication of a book that has already been sent to several media outlets and presumably to third party book sellers.
Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer, predicted that, “Friday’s hearing, if it happens, will be a circus of lawyers and will be ‘must watch’ TV.”
“DOJ is going for broke with this TRO motion, trying not only to silence Bolton but also halt release of the books by the publisher and commercial resellers through an obscure federal rule that, to my knowledge, has never been used in this type of case,” he told TPM via email.
Read the DOJ filing below: