John Bolton finally has his clearance. After a year of litigation, the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its civil and criminal legal actions against former President Trump's one-time national security adviser over his bestselling memoir The Room Where It Happened.
The news came in a brief, two-line stipulation filed on June 16, in which federal judge Royce Lamberth dismissed the DoJ case against Bolton with prejudice, and ordered each side to pay their own fees and costs. Published by Simon & Schuster, The Room Where It Happened has sold about 679,000 print copies, according to NPD BookScan.
In a statement, Bolton’s Lawyer, Charles Cooper, said the decision to end the litigation against Bolton was a complete vindication—and suggests wrongdoing by the Trump DoJ. "By ending these proceedings without in any way penalizing Ambassador Bolton or limiting his proceeds from the book, the Department of Justice has tacitly acknowledged that President Trump and his White House officials acted illegitimately,” Cooper said in a statement.
The legal case against Bolton began a year ago this week, when DoJ officials sued to block publication of Bolton’s memoir, alleging that it contained classified information that jeopardized national security and ran afoul of Bolton’s nondisclosure agreements, which explicitly required the author to await a written clearance before publishing his book. In court, Lamberth chided Bolton for publishing the book without a written clearance, but refused to block publication. The Trump DoJ then pursued a civil suit to seize Bolton’s royalties, and even initiated a criminal investigation.
Bolton insisted the book was not in violation of any agreement and was cleared by government reviewers, before political appointees in the Trump administration stepped in and “misused” the review process to suppress a book that would embarrass the president. Indeed, court filings revealed a lengthy, intensive review process, including a bombshell letter filed with the court by attorneys for Ellen Knight, the National Security Council official who led the pre-publication review of Bolton's book. In a 19-page letter, Knight bolstered the author's claims of bad faith and confirmed that the book was cleared only to be blocked by political appointees who later unsuccessfully pressured Knight to change her story, and eventually removed her from her post when she resisted.
The end of the litigation comes with a new administration and as Bolton was set to present evidence related to his claims of bad faith in the review process. With the litigation now dismissed, it remains to be seen whether Bolton’s claims of bad faith in the government review process will be pursued, perhaps by an Inspector General investigation.
This is far from the first time authors and publishers have accused the government of using the review process to suppress controversial viewpoints or disclosures. In April of 2019, The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government seeking more transparency regarding various agencies' pre-publication book review processes.
"We applaud today’s decision by the Department of Justice, which affirms the right of Ambassador Bolton to tell the story of his time as National Security Advisor without fear of politically motivated retribution, and sets an important precedent for the publication of future works by government officials," said a spokesperson for S&S, in a statement to PW, adding that Bolton's book will "continue to provide readers today and for years to come with a definitive, inside account of some of the most important events of the Trump presidency."