The Trump administration has asked a federal judge in Washington to order the seizure of former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s $2 million advance plus royalties from his book deal on grounds of violation of clearance procedures.
According to a court filing submitted on July 30 and obtained by Bloomberg, the government alleges Bolton broke nondisclosure agreements by proceeding to publish his memoir without successfully completing a pre-publication review of his book to make sure it didn’t contain classified information.
While Bolton submitted a manuscript of his memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” for review by administration officials, he did not receive written clearance to publish, the government said in the filing, as cited by Bloomberg. The report said Bolton was told on several occasions that publishing the book without such authorization would be against the law.
Bolton’s attorney, Chuck Cooper, wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that Bolton cleared his book with Ellen Knight, the National Security Council’s senior director for pre-publication review of materials written by NSC personnel. Cooper detailed some of the interactions between Knight and Bolton and said the book’s review underwent several “laborious” iterations that ended with what he understood to be a verbal approval but that no formal letter of clearance was provided.
“We did hear from the White House on June 8. John A. Eisenberg, the president’s deputy counsel for national security, asserted in a letter that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript contains classified information and that publishing the book would violate his nondisclosure agreements,” Cooper wrote, adding that he viewed the White House communications as a “transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor” Bolton.
In a June interview on ABC, Bolton said his book does not contain classified content and that he submitted his manuscript for pre-publication clearance only “out of an abundance of caution.”
“When I wrote the book, to begin with, I was very conscious to avoid putting in anything that I thought could be deemed classifiable, and I didn’t think I had to put the book through the pre-publication clearance process for that reason,” Bolton said. “But we did out of an abundance of caution and then went through four arduous months of making sure there was nothing classified and I believe that strongly today.”
Trump, who called the book’s publication “totally inappropriate,” suggested Bolton could face criminal liability for publishing his memoir, saying, “I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified. So that would mean that if he wrote a book and the book gets out, he has broken the law. That would mean that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.”
The Trump administration filed a lawsuit on June 16 seeking to block the publication of Bolton’s book, arguing that the book is “rife with classified information” and that publishing it would compromise national security.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth later rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to block the book but criticized Bolton for gambling with national security.
“He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability,” Lamberth wrote in his order (pdf). The judge said that while Bolton may have improperly rushed the publication process, he also believes an injunction is unlikely to prevent irreparable harm to the government given that the book had already been disseminated widely.
“But these facts do not control the motion before the Court. The government has failed to establish that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm. Its motion is accordingly DENIED,” Lamberth wrote in the order.