The Justice Department indicated Wednesday that it was dropping its civil lawsuit against John Bolton for allegedly publishing his memoir without properly scrubbing it of classified materials. The dismissal was indicated in a barebones filing submitted jointly by the department’s and Bolton’s lawyers.
The court filing did not go into detail about the settlement terms, but Politico obtained a six-page settlement agreement that showed Bolton was not conceding any legal or rule violations. In his comments to the media, Bolton is doing a victory lap, as is his lawyer Charles Cooper, who did not immediately return TPM’s phone call.
The New York Times reported that, along with the request to dismiss the lawsuit, the Justice Department had also ended its criminal investigation into Bolton’s publication of the book. When Biden’s transition advisors reviewed what was publicly known about the case — which had already revealed the White House departed drastically from the typical protocols around pre-publication reviews — they determined it would be “improper to allow a meritless case to proceed simply to embarrass the Trump administration and the officials recommended the department drop it,” the Times said.
Had the case proceeded, Bolton would have moved forward with a discovery process that would have given him access to what happened behind the scenes in the White House’s review of the manuscripts, including potentially through depositions of former Trump officials.
The Justice Department initially filed a civil lawsuit in the days leading up to the book’s publishing date seeking a court order to stop its publication. At the time, President Trump was railing against the book, which was expected to reveal embarrassing information about the President ahead of the 2020 election. Even though the government is known to bring legal actions against former officials who deviate from the manuscript review process, the injunction request was an especially aggressive move.
A few months later, it was reported that the DOJ had opened a criminal investigation into Bolton for publishing the book.
The request to block its publication was rejected by the judge, who pointed to logistical issues with the request, as copies of the book had already shipped. Still, the judge signaled that he could still find Bolton in violation of the law around getting the government okay to publish his book. Despite indications of political interference in the Bolton manuscript review process, outside national security law experts described the case as a slam-dunk for the government, in part because the law is heavily favored towards the government in these cases.
The government’s move to drop the lawsuit surprised several of those experts, while Cooper, Bolton’s lawyer, told the Times that “the Department of Justice has tacitly acknowledged that President Trump and his White House officials acted illegitimately.”
Bolton meanwhile described the decision to Axios as a “complete vindication.”
“They’re just giving up,” Bolton said.
A Justice Department spokesperson also did not immediately respond to the inquiry.