A federal judge on Thursday appeared skeptical of former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonMaximum pressure is keeping US troops in Iraq and Syria Woodward book trails Bolton, Mary Trump in first-week sales Ex-NSC official alleges ‘unprecedented’ intervention by White House aides in Bolton book review MORE‘s defense against the Trump administration’s allegations that he published his new memoir without proper clearance from officials reviewing it for classified information.
Judge Royce Lamberth heard arguments from both sides during a hearing on Thursday, a day after an official said in a court filing that the White House’s national security leaders took an “unprecedented” level of interest in the customary prepublication review of Bolton’s book.
But Lamberth, who was appointed to the federal district court in D.C. by former President Reagan, appeared unmoved by Bolton’s legal team, who argued that the submission from the official was further evidence that the White House is seeking to harm the book in retaliation for its unflattering portrayal of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump’s refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: ‘What country are we in?’ Romney: ‘Unthinkable and unacceptable’ to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE.
“I’m very much of the notion that I just let you engage in that whole political diatribe that really has no place in what we are arguing today,” Lamberth said in response to one of Bolton’s lawyers who pointed to the filing as evidence of bad faith from the Trump White House.
Lamberth had rejected the administration’s effort in June to block the publication of “The Room Where it Happened,” saying it was too late to prevent the release when copies had already been shipped across the country and were widely available.
But he still chided the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for moving forward with the publication without receiving express written authorization from the government.
“In taking it upon himself to publish his book without securing final approval from national intelligence authorities, Bolton may indeed have caused the country irreparable harm,” Lamberth wrote in his June decision.
The Trump administration is now seeking to have Bolton’s book royalties seized, alleging that he violated a nondisclosure agreement forbidding him from discussing any classified information from his time in the White House.
Jennifer Dickey, an attorney with the Department of Justice, argued on Thursday that there was legal recourse Bolton could have pursued before rushing ahead with the publication.
“He could have filed a suit at any time during the process if he thought the government was engaging in bad faith,” Dickey said. “He could have notified the government in any way if he thought there was bad faith, but he did not do so. Instead, he walked away, opted out and sent his manuscript to the publisher.”
The ongoing lawsuit is a civil matter, but the Department of Justice is reportedly investigating whether to bring criminal charges against Bolton.
Bolton’s lawyers argue that he was within his rights to proceed with the book when they were notified in April that the official leading the prepublication review notified him that she was satisfied that the manuscript was free of any classified material after a months-long process and was awaiting final confirmation from her superiors.
The official who led the review, Ellen Knight, told the court through an attorney this week that National Security Council officials who didn’t have any training in prepublication review launched a second assessment of Bolton’s manuscript without her knowledge after she presented findings in April.
Shortly before the legal battle began, she said that the administration’s lawyers tried to persuade her into signing a declaration saying that her own review had been flawed. Knight refused to sign the declaration, her lawyer said in the court filing Wednesday.
Bolton’s legal team is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed or, alternatively, to be allowed to gather evidence from the White House about the prepublication review process.
Michael Kirk, one of Bolton’s attorneys, said Thursday that the White House abused that process in order to suppress the book until after the election, “because the book reports facts that portray the president in an embarrassing and unflattering light.”