Justice Department Opens Criminal Inquiry Into Bolton’s Book
The Justice Department opened a criminal inquiry into whether former White House national security adviser John Bolton unlawfully disclosed classified information in his latest book.
A grand jury convened and issued subpoenas for communication records from Simon & Schuster, the company that published The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, as well as from Javelin, Bolton’s literary agency, according to multiple reports on Tuesday.
“We are aware of reports that grand jury subpoenas have been issued seeking information concerning the publication of Ambassador Bolton‘s recent book,” Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, told the Washington Examiner. “Ambassador Bolton emphatically rejects any claim that he acted improperly, let alone criminally, in connection with the publication of his book, and he will cooperate fully, as he has throughout, with any official inquiry into his conduct.”
The Justice Department declined the Washington Examiner’s request for comment. Simon & Schuster and Javelin did not immediately respond.
Prior to the late June release of the book, which painted an unflattering picture of President Trump, the Trump administration sought to stop the release of Bolton’s book through the courts, but the legal effort was denied by a federal judge, who noted that multiple news outlets had already reported many details from it and that thousands of books had already been shipped nationwide.
Bolton, who worked as national security adviser for Trump in 2018 and 2019 and as United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush, argued in court in June through his legal team that “if the First Amendment stands for anything, it is that the Government does not have the power to clasp its hand over the mouth of a citizen attempting to speak on a matter of great public import.” Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, told the court that “it is difficult to conceive of speech that is closer to the core of the First Amendment than speech concerning presidential actions in office, including actions at the heart of the President’s impeachment, and it is difficult to conceive of a greater attack on the First Amendment than the suppression of that speech in the service of a reelection campaign.”
The Justice Department argued this summer that Bolton’s book “still contains classified information” and said this could be confirmed by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina, and the National Security Council Senior Director for Intelligence Programs Michael Ellis. DOJ lawyers said the “disclosure of the manuscript will damage the national security of the United States,” and so “the United States asks this Court to hold Defendant to the legal obligations he freely assumed as a condition of receiving access to classified information and prevent the harm to national security that will result if his manuscript is published to the world.”
Judge Royce Lamberth of the District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Trump administration’s request to block Bolton’s book from being released but nevertheless warned that the former national security adviser likely risked U.S. national security by disclosing classified information. He wrote in June that the Justice Department’s arguments against releasing the book were not enough to overcome the fact that the book’s details were already publicly available, noting that “for reasons that hardly need to be stated, the Court will not order a nationwide seizure and destruction of a political memoir.”
Still, the judge also harshly criticized Bolton’s decisions.
“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,” the judge wrote. “Bolton was wrong.”
In the memoir, Bolton claimed Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping if China could help his reelection campaign, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who claims to have been present at that discussion, told lawmakers that Bolton’s claims were “absolutely untrue.” Bolton also wrote that Trump once said journalists should be jailed or executed.
Bolton also claimed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once wrote denigrating notes about Trump to Bolton. In his memoir, he said Pompeo wrote that talks with Kim on North Korea had a “zero probability of success” and said Trump was “full of shit.” The Trump national security adviser also wrote about what he called the “Ukraine fantasy conspiracy theories” that led up to Trump’s impeachment.
Lamberth ruled in June that “upon reviewing the classified materials, the Court is persuaded that Defendant Bolton likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations.”
The judge said Bolton “disputes that his book contains any such classified information and emphasizes his months-long compliance with the prepublication review process” but criticized him because he “could have sued the government and sought relief in court.” Lamberth said that Bolton “was entrusted with countless national secrets and privy to countless sensitive dealings” and “to Bolton, this is a selling point.”
Bolton offered to testify in Trump’s Ukraine-related impeachment trial earlier this year only if the Republican-led Senate issued a subpoena against him, which the upper chamber declined to do. The Democrat-led House had asked Bolton to testify, but after he refused, the House declined to issue a subpoena to compel his testimony.
The House impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power related to Ukraine and of obstruction of Congress in December, but the Senate acquitted him following an impeachment trial in February.