Trump administration sues to block release of John Bolton book which White House says contains 'classified information'

Three of four legal scholars predict president will lose court fight over former aide's potentially damaging memoir

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Tuesday 16 June 2020 23:50 BST
Trump says John Bolton should be prosecuted for publishing his book

The Trump administration on Tuesday asked a federal judge to block sales of an upcoming tell-all book by former national security adviser John Bolton, arguing it is "rife with classified information."

The suit was filed in a Washington, DC, federal court and also alleges, as Attorney General William Barr suggested on Monday, that Mr Bolton and publisher Simon & Schuster did not complete a routine vetting process used by all administrations to ensure a book by a former aide does not reveal classified information or give away national secrets.

"(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," the Trump administration wrote to the court.

The president on Monday told reporters he expected Mr Bolton, if he chose to move ahead with plans to start selling the tome next week, would encounter "criminal problems."

"He stayed for a short while, and I felt that it was not appropriate that he stay any longer. I wasn't impressed," Mr Trump said of his third national security adviser, whom he claims to have fired. Mr Bolton tells the story of his White House departure differently.

"If he wrote a book, I can't imagine that he can because that's highly classified information. Even conversations with me, they're highly classified," the president said. "I told that to the Attorney General before. I will consider every conversation with me, as president, highly classified. So that would mean that if he wrote a book and if the, the book gets out, he's broken the law. And I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so," the president added. "Maybe he's not telling the truth. He's been known not to tell the truth a lot."

The president offered no evidence to support that claim.

"So we'll have to see what the book is all about. But, you know, a lot of people are upset with him for writing a book," Mr Trump said Monday. "A lot of people are very angry with him for writing a book."

Whether or not any president can, while arguing his every conversation is classified, block sales of a former aide's memoir will now be up to the court system.

Most legal scholars contacted on Tuesday doubt the White House will prevail with federal judges, but one noted courts have long sided with the executive branch on national security matters.

Mr Bolton is slated for a prime time television interview with ABC News on Sunday night, giving him a chance to preview the book – though the litigation could limit what he feels comfortable saying.

He and his former boss have been in a war of words since he was fired last year over a number of policy disputes with Mr Trump.

His hiring was dubious, with Washington insiders predicting even before his joining the White House team that it likely would end with a clash with Mr Trump.

That's because the outspoken Bolton is a hawk who believes strongly in using US military force abroad, while the president is an isolationist who wants to bring home most US troops and has, despite his bluster, avoided using the military – especially for the kinds of large-scale operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia that he as a candidate called "stupid" and too pricey in terms of federal funds and the lives of American troops.

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