Trump predicts a court battle over John Bolton’s book
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr did not deny on Monday that the administration would sue to block the impending release of John Bolton’s memoir, with Barr insisting that the former national security adviser had yet to finish the required pre-publication clearance process.
Following a roundtable at the White House on senior citizens issues, Trump told reporters that if the administration had not already taken legal action, “they will soon be in court.”
The potential legal threat, first reported by ABC News, comes just a week before Bolton’s tell-all about his time in the West Wing is set to be released. Bolton has been sparring with the White House since late January over accusations that the impending memoir contains classified information.
But Barr on Monday made no explicit mention of a lawsuit to block the book, repeatedly telling reporters that in the administration’s view, Bolton “hasn’t completed the process” of getting his book cleared for publication.
Asked what the Department of Justice was doing about Bolton’s book, Barr said that there are “a number of things, but the thing that is front and center right now is trying to get him to complete the process — go through the process and to make the necessary deletions of classified information.”
When a reporter asked whether the department was going to court to block Bolton’s book, Barr responded that “I said what we are doing is trying to get him to complete the clearance process that is required.”
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Bolton’s attorney Chuck Cooper detailed what he described as an “intensive four-month review” by the National Security Council, but said that the White House had gone silent for six weeks until news reports announced the book’s release date. Cooper accused the administration of using “national security as a pretext to censor” the former national security adviser.
Bolton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has also backed him up in recent days, saying in a news release on Wednesday that Bolton had cooperated with the NSC to incorporate changes in the text to address its concerns. “The final, published version of this book reflects those changes,” the company said.
Asked about those claims, Barr reiterated that Bolton had yet to complete the pre-clearance process.
At the White House on Monday, Trump blasted his former national security adviser, describing the decision to pen a memoir as “totally inappropriate” while suggesting that he hired Bolton to head the NSC because it was a post that did not require Senate confirmation.
Trump then went on to claim that Bolton should not have been allowed to write a book based on his time at the White House, arguing that “I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified” — a blanket assertion that is legally dubious.
In the book, according to a news release put out on Friday, Bolton rips his former boss and accuses Trump of repeatedly endangering national security — and committing a series of potentially impeachable offenses — to boost his reelection prospects. Bolton will also knock House Democrats for too narrowly tailoring their impeachment inquiry last fall, arguing that he could provide evidence of similar transgressions “across the full range of his foreign policy.”
When a manuscript of the memoir leaked in January, it landed like a bombshell on the Senate impeachment trial, where Trump was ultimately acquitted. But more potential revelations sparked fears that the normally straightforward NSC clearance process could turn into a politicized and protracted legal battle that, thus far, has failed to materialize.
According to ABC News, the NSC told Bolton his manuscript still contained “significant amounts” of classified information, a claim Cooper rejected.
Trump said Monday he hadn’t read the manuscript but said that Bolton had been “advised not to write it until it’s cleared. He couldn’t wait.”
“But personally I would imagine he’s got like, when you do classified, that to me is a very strong criminal problem. And he knows he’s got classified information,” the president continued, again asserting that “any conversation with me is classified” and adding without evidence that he understood Bolton might have lied about conversations “in some cases.”
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Bolton, in the meantime, is already set to embark on a media tour to promote the book, with his first interview about the memoir airing Sunday night on ABC.