Simon & Schuster is said to have received a subpoena for documents amid reports that the Department of Justice is weighing potential criminal charges against President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton over his bestselling memoir The Room Where It Happened, which S&S published in June.
S&S officials would neither confirm or deny to PW the receipt of a subpoena, and declined to comment on reports in numerous outlets suggesting that the DoJ has convened a grand jury to consider charging Bolton for illegally divulging classified or otherwise privileged information in the book.
The potential criminal charges represent a major escalation of the Trump administration’s legal battle against Bolton. Although federal judge Royce Lamberth judge refused to block publication of the book in June, a civil case against Bolton continues, in which the government is looking to seize Bolton’s earnings from the book—including his future royalties and his reported $2 million advance.
In a statement, Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, insisted his client did not break the law. “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,” Cooper said.
The news of potential criminal action against Bolton comes in a highly charged political environment—President Trump has repeatedly insisted that Bolton has broken the law, and in June tweeted that Bolton should be jailed. And, notably, news of the potential charges came on the very same day that veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s damning portrait of Trump, Rage, was officially published by S&S.
The news also comes at an interesting point in the DoJ’s civil case against Bolton, where Lamberth is now poised to rule on the DoJ’s bid for Summary Judgment in the case. Bolton, however, has asked the court to dismiss the case against him and, failing that, has asked the court to order discovery in the case, including on issues that would be central to any jury considering criminal charges—whether Bolton’s memoir in fact contains information that was properly classified or otherwise restricted at the time of publication.
Bolton contends that after a months-long review process, involving many drafts, Ellen Knight, the NSC’s senior director for Records, Access, and Information Security Management verbally affirmed that Bolton’s manuscript was cleared of any classified material. At that point, Bolton alleges, political appointees at the White House undertook a second “bad faith” review in an effort to suppress the book.
In his June 20 decision, Lamberth denied the DOJ's emergency application to block publication, but rebuked Bolton for opting out of the review process, concluding that his book “likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations."
In filings last week, Bolton again insisted that the book does not contain any classified material, and claimed that the evidence gathered in discovery would show that “any contractual duties" relating to the pre-publication review of his book "were excused and released because the unprecedented second pre-publication review of the book…was conducted unfairly and in bad faith, constituting a prior material breach by the Government.”
In its reply last week, DoJ attorneys countered that whether the government was acting in bad faith or not doesn’t matter. "Had [Bolton] believed that the Government was acting inappropriately, he had a remedy: to file suit challenging that conduct without releasing his manuscript to the world,” the DoJ filing states. “But he opted to engage in self-help instead—exactly the type of behavior the pre-publication requirement is designed to prevent.”