UPDATED with publisher’s statement: Simon & Schuster, which is preparing to release John Bolton’s memoir The Room Where It Happened, said that a Justice Department lawsuit is the latest effort by Donald Trump’s administration to prevent publication of a book deemed unflattering to the president.
In a statement, the publisher said the lawsuit “is 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. Ambassador Bolton has worked in full cooperation with the [National Security Council] in its pre-publication review to address its concerns and Simon & Schuster fully supports his First Amendment right to tell the story of his time in the White House to the American public.”
The lawsuit claims that Bolton breached a non-disclosure agreement and failed to complete a required review process to ensure that the book did not contain any classified information. The Justice Department is seeking a court order that would force Bolton to ask the publisher to delay its release until the review is completed.
ABC News already has taped an interview with Bolton about the book, with a one-hour special set for Sunday. Plans have not changed for the broadcast. In fact, the network released a new promo for the interview late on Tuesday, capitalizing on Trump’s opposition to the book/
Simon & Schuster also published Omarosa Manigault Newman’s 2018 book, Unhinged, and brushed off a Trump legal threat as a “hollow” attempt to stop publication.
PREVIOUSLY, 2:52 PM PT: John Bolton is days away from publishing a tell-all book about his time as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and already has taped an exclusive interview with ABC News.
But on Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Bolton, seeking to at least delay the release of his memoir, The Room Where It Happened, which, according to publicity surrounding it, will provide a pretty scathing account of the way that Trump conducts his foreign policy.
The crux of the Justice Department’s lawsuit (read it here) is that Bolton failed to complete a pre-publication screening process prior to publication to screen out classified information and that his violated a non-disclosure agreement. But Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that an extensive review already has been completed and that the claims that the memoir contains state secrets were a “transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import.”
The Room Where It Happened is set to be published on June 23. Simon & Schuster said in a release describing the book that it would show a president “addicted to chaos, who embraced our enemies and spurned our friends, and was deeply suspicious of his own government. In Bolton’s telling, all this helped put Trump on the bizarre road to impeachment.”
Tellingly, the lawsuit does not name publisher Simon & Schuster, but just Bolton, and it seeks a court order to have him instruct the publisher to delay the release date and “take any and all available steps to retrieve and dispose of any copies of The Room Where It Happened that may be in possession of any third party in a manner acceptable to the United States.”
The lawsuit also seeks to try to stop Bolton from further disclosures of the information in the book, claiming that he is violating a non-disclosure agreement, without first obtaining permission “from the United States through the pre-publication review process.” It also seeks to establish a “constructive trust” for any money that Bolton has received for the book or any rights related to it, including film rights, a move that would mean that the government would collect any proceeds.
Even though the lawsuit seeks a court order to force a delay of the book, the DOJ has yet to file the legal maneuver to do so in a timely way before its release. The government has yet to file for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order.
ABC News already has scheduled the Bolton interview for a one-hour special on Sunday, in an interview he did with Martha Raddatz. A spokesman for the news division did not immediately return a request for comment on what, if any impact, the lawsuit would have on the broadcast.
Bolton’s memoir has earned the scorn of team Trump, and the president on Monday even said that he considers “every conversation with me highly classified,” a sweeping claim that many legal experts find dubious.
A number of Democrats also have expressed their disdain for Bolton’s book, as they believe that he should have come forward sooner to testify at the House impeachment hearings. In January, after the House voted to impeach Trump, he said that he would testify if subpoenaed during a Senate trial, but the Senate voted down attempts to call witnesses.
In the lawsuit, filed by Assistant Attorney General Joseph Hunt, the Justice Department claims that “at no time has Defendant received ‘written authorization’ as required by the NDAs that disclosure of the book ‘is permitted.’ The opposite is true. Defendant was repeatedly advised in writing that the prepublication review process was ongoing.”
But the lawsuit also notes that Ellen Knight, senior director for Records Access and Information Security Management at the NSC, had completed her review of the manuscript “and was of the judgment that the manuscript draft did not contain classified information. Ms. Knight informed NSC Legal of the status of the review.” Bolton asked whether a letter would be available confirming the clearance, but she said that the “process remains ongoing,” according to the lawsuit. Then another NSC official, Michael Ellis, senior director of intelligence, started an additional review at the request of Bolton’s successor, Robert O’Brien, who “was concerned that the manuscript still appeared to contain classified information,” the DOJ claims.
In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Cooper wrote that when they asked Knight when they would receive the clearance letter, “Ms. Knight cryptically replied that her ‘interaction’ with unnamed others in the White House about the book had ‘been very delicate’ and that there were ‘some internal process considerations to work through.'”
Earlier on Tuesday, Bolton tweeted out statements from the ACLU and PEN America, which warned that attempts to halt its release would fail.
“It unfortunately comes as no surprise that the White House is seemingly manipulating and abusing the pre-publication review process to prevent or delay the publication of a book that could include unflattering information about the president,” said Summer Lopez, PEN’s senior director of free expression programs.
Trump has used legal threats in efforts to halt the publication of other tell-alls about his administration, either by insiders or those who were granted special access. His attorneys fired off legal letters against the publishers of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged, but they did not prevent publication. More recently, according to The Daily Beast, the Trump Organization’s lawyer fired off a cease-and-desist letter to Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, warning him about publication of a tell-all tome.
Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys who represented the whistleblower at the heart of the impeachment proceedings, wrote on Twitter that the lawsuit was a “routine breach of contract lawsuit.”
“First time I’ve ever seen Govt sue before book actually published,” he wrote. “#Bolton is in world of legal trouble. But the book WILL be published.”
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