UPDATED, with comment from Trump, Bolton’s attorney, and Simon & Schuster: A federal judge rejected a Justice Department effort to prevent the release of the memoir from Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton.
But U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, in a ruling issued on Saturday, also was highly critical of the way that Bolton went ahead with publishing the book, concluding that he submitted it to the government’s national security review did not complete the process. Bolton may face having the government collect the proceeds from the book.
Bolton “has gambled with the national security of the United States,” Lamberth wrote. “He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability. But those facts do not control the motion before the court. The government has failed to establish that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm.”
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Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, is due to be released on Tuesday by Simon & Schuster, and he has scheduled a publicity blitz that will start with an ABC News special on Sunday night. Many of its bombshell details — including Bolton’s claims that Trump pursued a foreign policy in his own self interest — already have been the source of news stories and an excerpt in The Wall Street Journal.
Lamberth rejected the Justice Department’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the book’s release.
In his ruling, Lamberth noted that 200,000 copies of the book already have been shipped domestically, and “reviews of and excerpts from the book are widely available online,” and it’s even circulated among reporters at the White House. A CBS News reporter already had an advance copy of the book when questioning the White House press secretary on Thursday.
“By the looks of it, the horse is not just out of the barn—it is out of the country,” Lamberth wrote.
The government argued that, despite the book’s pre-release availability, Bolton should be required to “instruct his publisher to take any and all available steps to retrieve and destroy any copies of the book that may be in the possession of any third party.”
Lamberth rejected that idea. “For reasons that hardly need to be stated, the Court will not order a nationwide seizure and destruction of a political memoir,” he wrote.
Yet the judge clearly found fault with the way that Bolton went about going through a mandated pre-publication review process before publishing the book. Having signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of his tenure as national security adviser, Bolton was required to submit his book to the government to ensure that it did not contain classified material. As that process dragged on, Lamberth wrote that he “pulled the plug” and sent the manuscript to the publisher for printing.
Lamberth wrote that the Justice Department is likely to succeed on the merits of its lawsuit, in which it seeks, among other things, an order that proceeds from the book be held by the federal government. In fact, Lamberth order raises the prospect that the DOJ will also pursue criminal charges against Bolton.
He wrote, “Bolton could have sued the government and sought relief in court. Instead, he opted out of the review process before its conclusion. Unilateral fast-tracking carried the benefit of publicity and sales, and the cost of substantial risk exposure. This was Bolton’s bet: If he is right and the book does not contain classified information, he keeps the upside mentioned above; but if he is wrong, he stands to lose his profits from the book deal, exposes himself to criminal liability, and imperils national security. Bolton was wrong.”
Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, argued that the NSC official tasked with reviewing the book, Ellen Knight, concluded after a lengthy, four-month editing process that the book no longer contained classified information. But Cooper said that the administration then withheld issuing Bolton a written clearance letter, a delay that he said was a pretext for stifling its ultimate publication. Instead, the Justice Department said that 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.”
“While the Government seeks to dispute Ms. Knight’s considered judgment, its claim is, quite simply, a regrettable pretext designed to cover up what is in fact a determined political effort to suppress Ambassador Bolton’s speech,” Cooper wrote in a court filing earlier this week.
But Lamberth was not persuaded.
“Many Americans are unable to renew their passports within four months, but Bolton complains that reviewing hundreds of pages of a National Security Advisor’s tell-all deserves a swifter timetable,” he wrote.
He added, “Access to sensitive intelligence is rarely consolidated in individuals, and it comes as no surprise to the Court that the government requested several iterations of review headed by multiple officers. But what is reasonable to the Court was intolerable to Bolton, and he proceeded to publication without so much as an email notifying the government.”
Adam Rothberg, a spokesperson for Simon & Schuster, said in a statement, “We are grateful that the Court has vindicated the strong First Amendment protections against censorship and prior restraint of publication. We are very pleased that the public will have the opportunity to read Ambassador Bolton’s account of his time as national security advisor.”
In a statement, Cooper said, “We welcome today’s decision by the Court denying the Government’s attempt to suppress Ambassador Bolton’s book. We respectfully take issue, however, with the Court’s preliminary conclusion at this early stage of the case that Ambassador Bolton did not comply fully with his contractual prepublication obligation to the Government, and the case will now proceed to development of the full record on that issue. The full story of these events has yet to be told—but it will be.”
Trump tweeted about the decision, warning that Bolton “will have bombs dropped on him!”
“BIG COURT WIN against Bolton,” he wrote. “Obviously, with the book already given out and leaked to many people and the media, nothing the highly respected Judge could have done about stopping it…BUT, strong & powerful statements & rulings on MONEY & on BREAKING CLASSIFICATION were made. Bolton broke the law and has been called out and rebuked for so doing, with a really big price to pay. He likes dropping bombs on people, and killing them. Now he will have bombs dropped on him!”
Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that the government “intends to hold Bolton to the further requirements of his agreements and to ensure that he receives no profits from his shameful decision to place his desire for money and attention ahead of his obligations to protect national security.”
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