Trump administration asks federal judge to block Bolton's book

Trump administration says former national security adviser's book breached a non-disclosure agreement.

Ben Ariel ,

John Bolton
John Bolton

The Trump administration on Tuesday asked a federal judge to order former national security adviser John Bolton to stop the publication of his upcoming book on his White House tenure, CNN reported.

The lawsuit argues that Bolton had breached a non-disclosure agreement and was risking the exposure of classified information.

The suit, filed in Washington, DC, federal court, alleges that Bolton's 500-plus page manuscript was "rife with classified information," and prosecutors say that Bolton backed out of an ongoing White House vetting process for the book that he'd been obligated to do as a result of agreements.

"(Bolton) struck a bargain with the United States as a condition of his employment in one of the most sensitive and important national security positions in the United States Government and now wants to renege on that bargain by unilaterally deciding that the prepublication review process is complete and deciding for himself whether classified information should be made public," prosecutors write.

The lawsuit marks the latest White House effort against Bolton after months of back-and-forth between the National Security Council and Bolton's representatives over whether the book contains classified information.

Simon & Schuster previously announced that Bolton's book, "In the Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir," would be released on June 23.

Bolton's book has already shipped to warehouses ahead of its scheduled release. He has taped an interview with ABC slated to air Sunday. A source close to him says he is intent on publishing the book as scheduled Tuesday, meaning he expects to deal with any ramifications from the administration in the aftermath, not before.

Bolton, who left the White House in September, submitted his original draft late last year to the White House for the vetting process, and was told shortly after by a senior NSC official that it contained significant amounts of classified information, including material designated as top secret.

After several in-person meetings and rounds of edits culminating in late April, Bolton appeared to have cleared the prepublication review. Ellen Knight, the official who reviewed the book, had determined that the latest version of the manuscript no longer contained classified information, the lawsuit says.

Less than a week later, however, another round of reviews had begun in the White House, this time conducted by Michael Ellis, the NSC's senior director for intelligence. That review came at the request of Robert O'Brien, Bolton's successor as national security adviser, according to the lawsuit.

O'Brien "was concerned that the manuscript still appeared to contain classified information, in part because the same Administration that the Author served is still in office and that the manuscript described sensitive information about ongoing foreign policy issues," the lawsuit says.

Ellis completed his review on June 9 and found that there were still instances of classified information in the book as news reports described Bolton's intention to move forward with the book's publication on June 23, even without White House approval.

In a letter sent to Bolton's lawyer on Thursday, the NSC legal adviser wrote that "the manuscript still contains classified information, because, among other things, it includes information that he himself classified and designated for declassification only after the lapse of twenty-five years."

The lawsuit comes a day after President Donald Trump said it was “totally inappropriate” for Bolton to write a memoir about his work in the White House.

“If he wrote a book, I can’t imagine that he can because that’s highly classified information. I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified. So that would mean if he wrote a book and if the book gets out, he’s broken the law and I would think he would have criminal problems,” Trump told reporters during a meeting in the Cabinet Room.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday is a civil suit, and carries no criminal penalties, noted CNN. Initially, Attorney General William Barr did not confirm that his department was preparing a lawsuit but said the administration was focused on getting Bolton to complete the clearance process for publishing books.

"People who come to work in the government and have access to sensitive information generally sign an agreement that says when they leave government, if they write something that draws on or might reflect some of the information they've head access to, they have to go through a clearance process before they can publish the book," Barr said on Monday. "We don't think Bolton has gone through that process, hasn't completed that process."

In addition to the delayed publication, the administration is asking the court to order Bolton's publisher to "retrieve and dispose" of any copies of the book that have already been disseminated. They also ask for any money the book earns from its sales -- or the sale of movie rights from it -- in the event that it is published without a completed prepublication review.

Bolton was dismissed by Trump last September. Trump later explained the dismissal by saying that Bolton made “mistakes”, including insulting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by demanding that North Korea follow the "Libya model" of nuclear disarmament.

In November, two months after the dismissal, Bolton returned to Twitter after a lengthy absence and accused the White House of blocking access to his account.