At a hearing held over the telephone yesterday, a federal judge appeared unimpressed by claims made this week that Trump administration officials had abused the prepublication review process in a bid to suppress publication of former National Security advisor John Bolton’s bestselling memoir The Room Where It Happened.
According to a report in the New York Times, attorneys for Bolton argued that claims in a bombshell 19-page letter filed by attorneys for Ellen Knight, the former senior director who led the review of Bolton’s manuscript, bolstered their case that the government acted in “bad faith” by withholding a formal written clearance for Bolton’s memoir even though Knight affirmed that she and her team had cleared the book for publication.
But Judge Royce Lamberth appeared unmoved by the argument, suggesting that Knight’s letter was a “political diatribe” that had little bearing on the questions before the court.
Lawyers for the DoJ, meanwhile, pressed its argument that it did not matter whether the government was acting in bad faith or not, or whether Bolton actually shared classified information. Bolton was required by contract to wait for written authorization before proceeding with publication, which he did not do. “Our position is clear,” DoJ lawyers told the court, “the breach occurs regardless of whether there actually was classified information in the manuscript.”
Lamberth is considering competing motions from the parties. On July 16, Bolton asked the court to dismiss the Department of Justice's remaining civil case against him, arguing that he has not breached his nondisclosure agreements. Failing a dismissal, Bolton is seeking discovery in the case, claiming any contractual duties Bolton may have had under his NDAs were mooted by the Trump administration’s “bad-faith abuse of the review process.”
The DOJ is seeking summary judgment in the case, a ruling that would enable the government to seize Bolton's royalties, citing the author's nondisclosure agreements. The DoJ is also said to be considering criminal charges against Bolton.
On June 20, federal judge Royce Lamberth denied the DoJ's emergency application for an order blocking publication of Bolton's book. But in his 10-page opinion and order, Lamberth rebuked Bolton for pushing ahead with publication, rather than seeking redress from the courts.
"Bolton could have sued the government and sought relief in court. Instead, he opted out of the review process before its conclusion,” Lamberth wrote, adding that he was persuaded that Bolton “likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations."
But the evidence before Lamberth at that time did not include testimony from Ellen Knight and her team. In her letter to the court this week, attorneys for Knight said she was not taking sides in the case, but raised concerns about the integrity of the prepublication review process.
“As a career professional in the field of classified information management, Ms. Knight is very concerned about the politicization—or even the perceived politicization—of the prepublication review process,” attorneys for Knight told the court. “Once authors start perceiving that manuscripts are being reviewed for political considerations, they will lose confidence in the integrity of the process and find ways to publish or release their works without submitting them for review. This could result in unchecked disclosures of sensitive information and the potential for serious damage to our national security.”