DOJ sues to stop former Trump national security advisor John Bolton's tell-all book

Pete Williams, Dartunorro Clark
Former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies September 30, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | Getty Images

The Trump administration filed a lawsuit Tuesday against former national security adviser John Bolton, hoping to delay publication of his tell-all book, due to be released next week.

"The United States is not seeking to censor any legitimate aspect" of the book manuscript, the Justice Department lawsuit said. It claims instead that Bolton has not finished with the review process required of any author who had a government security clearance.

The lawsuit asked a federal judge for an order directing Bolton to urge his publisher to delay publication until that process is done. And it further asked the judge to require Bolton to put any profit he makes from the book into a trust for the benefit of the government.

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Legal experts predicted that the lawsuit would be unable to stop publication.

"The law in this area is clear. Except in very rare circumstances, the courts cannot stop a publisher from publishing materials in advance," said Mark Rasch, a former federal prosecutor.

"That would be a prior restraint. While the government might be able to prosecute Bolton after the fact if he released truly classified materials, every time the government has tried to prevent someone from publishing what they believe to be classified, they have lost," says Rasch, now with Kohrman, Jackson, and Krantz, a Cleveland based law firm.

Bolton's book is well along in the publishing process, with copies already shipped to distributors. He also sat for an interview with ABC News scheduled to be broadcast this weekend.

The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department's Civil Division, said Bolton began the review process as required but lost patience as the process dragged on month after month. But it contained many references to classified information, including at the top-secret level, it said.

The publisher said the book would deliver an inside look at the White House during Bolton's 519 days as national security advisor. "I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn't driven by reelection calculations," the book said, according to material provided by Simon & Schuster.

Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union said the lawsuit was doomed to fail. "As usual, the government's threats have nothing to do with safeguarding national security, and everything to do with avoiding scandal and embarrassment."

Trump fired him in September 2019, but Bolton and his unpublished book were in the middle of a political maelstrom earlier this year when Democrats demanded his testimony in Trump's impeachment trial.

That request came after an explosive news report during the trial alleged that in Bolton's unpublished book Trump personally tied aid for Ukraine to an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Bolton's account conflicted with the president's, who described his talks with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy as a "perfect call" and later denied Bolton's claim.

However, former White House official Fiona Hill told House impeachment investigators last October that Bolton was so disturbed by the efforts to get the Ukrainians to investigate Trump's political rival that he called it a "drug deal." He also referred to the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who was also implicated in the Ukraine pressure campaign, as a "hand grenade."

Senate Republicans rejected Bolton's offer to testify in Trump's impeachment trial and largely rejected calls from Democrats to call more key witnesses. Shortly after the trial ended, Bolton said even if he had testified, it wouldn't have changed the outcome of the trial because of how House Democrats handled their investigation

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