First Amendment

DOJ suit seeks delay of Bolton book, which alleges 'obstruction of justice as a way of life'

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John Bolton Wikimedia Commons

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton in 2017. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Updated: The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to delay publication of a tell-all book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton, a day before major newspapers began reporting on its contents.

The lawsuit claims that the book, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, is “rife with classified information” that would breach a nondisclosure agreement that Bolton signed as a condition of gaining access to that information.

Courthouse News Service, the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times have coverage.

The suit seeks a delay to allow completion of a prepublication review process and an order placing a constructive trust on any profits obtained from dissemination of the book, particularly if Bolton refuses to complete the review. The suit also seeks an order to prevent publication of the book “as currently drafted.”

The suit names Bolton as a defendant but not his publisher, Simon & Schuster. Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, told the Washington Post that Bolton has been working with the National Security Council since December 2019 on the review process. Cooper said the book does not include classified information.

Cooper told the White House in a June 10 letter that the book has already been printed and shipped throughout the country, and Bolton has no authority to stop its distribution. The book is scheduled for release June 23.

Stephen Gillers, a professor at the New York University School of Law, told the Washington Post that the federal government had “no chance of an injunction against the publisher,” which did not sign a nondisclosure agreement. He thinks the DOJ “wants the publisher to get the court-ordered notice so that, if it publishes anyway, the U.S. will have some basis then to seek civil or criminal sanctions against it.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post published reports on the book Wednesday.

According to the reports, Bolton said President Donald Trump sought favors or approval from many authoritarian leaders, and Trump also suggested that he would be willing to halt criminal investigations of some companies as a favor to those leaders.

“The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Bolton wrote.

Bolton also said Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy American agricultural products, saying it could help him in the 2020 election.

Bolton said he discussed his concerns with U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who agreed that he was worried about appearances created by Trump’s conduct.

After the news accounts were published, the DOJ filed an emergency application Wednesday for a temporary restraining order and a motion for a preliminary injunction that will require the book publisher to stop publication, report the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The New York Times spoke with Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, about the government’s latest filing.

“As is often the case with the Trump administration, this motion is all hat and no cattle,” he said. “The audience for this filing is not the court; it’s the president.”

Updated June 18 at 9:02 a.m. to include information on the government’s latest filing.

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