Bolton Scores Pyrrhic Victory in Court Ruling on Trump Book
(Bloomberg) - A federal judge sentenced former national security advisor John Bolton for putting the United States at risk with his memoirs about President Donald Trump, but said it was too late to issue an order that would stop the book from being published .
District judge Royce Lamberth in Washington on Saturday rejected the Justice Department's last attempt to block the release for national security reasons and paved the way for the sale of "The Room Where It Happened: A Memory of the White." House ”on June 23.
In his view, Lamberth Bolton struck because he had played with national security and proceeded with the book before going through a pre-publication review by the Trump administration to make sure it didn't contain any classified information.
"He has harmed his country and made himself civil (and possibly criminal) liable," the judge wrote. “However, these facts do not control the application to the Court. The government has not shown that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm. "
He also wrote that the government is likely to prevail if the case moves to the next stage of the infringement lawsuit, which could allow it to confiscate Bolton's $ 2 million book advance and any license fees he receives. President Trump unleashed Twitter and said Bolton "had to pay a very high price."
The book dispute began on Tuesday when the Justice Department sued Bolton for breach of contract, claiming that he had withdrawn from the pre-release review process he was going through on receiving his security check. The next day, the government escalated its response and applied for an injunction to stop publication, although detailed extracts had already appeared in major newspapers and around 200,000 copies had been sent to booksellers.
According to reviews and published excerpts, Bolton's book paints an unflattering portrait of the White House and describes Trump as ignorant of fundamental foreign policy facts and largely motivated by political self-interest. In a passage that has been widely reported, Bolton wrote that Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy agricultural products from the United States, as this would help the Trump campaign build political support in rural countries.
The next phase of the legal process will focus on whether Bolton has violated the contract.
"It is hard if you are John Bolton to wake up this morning and say," Thank you, Judge Lamberth, I am confirmed, "said Harry Sandick, a former New York Attorney General." The court concluded that he didn't follow the rules on the matter. "
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to an email asking if it would like to appeal before the book is published on Tuesday. Bolton's lawyer, Chuck Cooper, said in a statement that he was questioning the judge's conclusion that Bolton had violated his contract. "The whole story of these events has yet to be told - but it will be," he said.
Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for the book's publisher, Simon & Schuster, said the company was "grateful that the court has confirmed the strict protection of the first change against censorship and prior restriction of publication."
In court records, Bolton argued that the government had delayed the review process to ensure that the book did not come out before November and that the president's chances of re-election were impaired. He also said that the first change should protect the publication of the book.
The judge ruled that the government had not borne the burden of finding that an injunction would prevent "irreparable injuries" - a prerequisite for securing such an injunction - since the book is already widely available.
"It looks like the horse isn't just out of the stable - it's out of the country," wrote Lamberth.
The pre-release review process began about six months ago when Bolton Ellen Knight, a National Security Council official, submitted an early draft according to the government complaint. After several rounds of editing, Knight concluded in April that the book no longer contained classified information, the complaint said. In May, Michael Ellis, a senior NSC officer, reopened the review process.
Bolton's decision to publish the book, although the government continued to review it, was an "unprecedented decision by an author to submit a manuscript for review before publication, but to end the process before its completion," the government lawyer David Morrell argued a hearing on Friday. "The government has a massive interest in ensuring that writers who are upset and dislike the process cannot just drop out."
Throughout the week, government critics have speculated that Trump may have played a role in delaying the book's review before publication. When asked by Lamberth, Morrell said on Friday that he did not know whether Trump had personally instructed intelligence officials to mark material in the book as classified.
"There are certain passages in this book that damage the United States' national security," said Morrell. "These NDAs are not just bureaucratic devices. They do an important role," he said, referring to a nondisclosure agreement that Bolton had signed.
The judge upset Bolton's behavior in his decision, saying "the damage is done" and there is no return to the status quo after his unilateral action.
"Bolton has made it his mission to publish his book without final approval from national intelligence agencies, and it has done irreparable damage to the country," Lamberth wrote. "But in the age of the Internet, even a handful of specimens in circulation could irreversibly destroy confidentiality."
The judge's decision coincided with predictions by legal experts rejecting the possibility that the White House might stop publishing the book, citing the Pentagon Papers case, in which the Supreme Court denied a similar request from President Richard Nixon had.
Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said in a statement that the court was right to reject the government's request for restraint, particularly as the order went further than the one requested in the Pentagon Papers case.
"In other ways, however, the ruling is a worrying confirmation of the government's broad power to censor on behalf of national security," said Jaffer. "The pre-release review system gives far too much power to government censorship, and reforming this dysfunctional system is long overdue."
The case is US v Bolton, 20-cv-01580, US District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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