Ex-NSC official alleges ‘unprecedented’ intervention by White House aides in Bolton book review

A former National Security Council (NSC) official says the White House intervened in “unprecedented” fashion in the prepublication review process of former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonJudge appears skeptical of Bolton’s defense of publishing book without White House approval Maximum pressure is keeping US troops in Iraq and Syria Woodward book trails Bolton, Mary Trump in first-week sales MORE’s book in an effort to deem information classified and prevent the memoir’s publication. 

Kenneth Wainstein, a lawyer for Ellen Knight, a career federal employee and a former NSC senior director who led the prepublication review of Bolton’s book, filed a letter in federal court on Wednesday detailing Knight’s concerns with the actions of White House officials in the review of Bolton’s memoir, “The Room Where it Happened,” earlier this year. He writes that she harbors concerns about the potential politicization of the prepublication review process.  

Wainstein conveys Knight’s view that NSC lawyers played “an outsize role in the review process” after she informed them of her receipt of Bolton’s manuscript.

For instance, NSC officials oversaw and dictated the timing of correspondence between Knight and Chuck Cooper, Bolton’s attorney, according to the letter. It says that, at one point, Michael Ellis, then the NSC deputy legal adviser, instructed Knight to “temporarily withhold any response” to Bolton’s attorney when he asked that a section of the book on Ukraine be prioritized so that it could become public during President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick ‘threatens’ Affordable Care Act MORE’s impeachment trial.

“These interactions with NSC Legal in the course of a prepublication review were unprecedented in her experience. She had never previously been asked to take the above described measures, and she has never heard that predecessors in her position ever received such instructions in the course of their prepublication reviews,” Wainstein writes. 

The letter, which stretches 18 pages, describes the prepublication review process that took place when Bolton’s more than 500-page manuscript was submitted to the NSC for review at the end of December. 

It says that Knight and her staff worked closely with Bolton, who served as Trump’s third national security adviser, to revise his manuscript and eventually determined that the book did not contain classified information in April.

But, according to Knight’s account, political appointees at NSC intervened, delaying the issuance of a clearance letter to Bolton and ultimately challenging her assessment of the book’s contents. Ellis had conducted his own review of the book, which Knight learned of in the weeks after she informed NSC lawyers that her review was completed. Knight says Ellis undertook a “flawed approach” because he conflated a classification review with a prepublication review.

The letter also claims that White House attorneys sought to persuade Knight to sign a declaration in the administration’s eventual lawsuit against Bolton about her role in the review process that contended

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White House ‘pressured official to say John Bolton book was security risk’



a person holding a sign: Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP


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Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

A former National Security Council official who while working there reviewed John Bolton’s memoir for classified information before publication, has claimed that White House lawyers tried to pressure her into signing misleading statements to prevent the publication ofthe book.

The allegations come a week after the US Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into whether Bolton, the former national security adviser, mishandled classified information in his book, The Room Where It Happened. Highly critical of Trump, the book was a bestseller when it was published in June, selling 780,000 copies in its first week.

In a letter filed in federal court in Washington on Wednesday, lawyers for Ellen Knight, the former senior director for records, access and information security management at the NSC, said that her prepublication review of Bolton’s book had actually cleared it in April.

According to the letter, Knight and her colleagues spent “hundreds of hours over the course of four months reviewing and researching information found in the over 500-page manuscript”.

Initially, they found the manuscript “contained voluminous amounts of classified information and that it would take a significant effort to put it into publishable shape”. But after a four-month consultation described as “regular, intensive and occasionally spirited”, Knight’s team determined that the “heavily revised” manuscript “would disclose no information that would cause harm to our national security”.

But Knight’s lawyers allege that White House officials then conducted their own review of Bolton’s revised manuscript and claimed it still contained classified information, in a process that Knight called “fundamentally flawed”. Knight alleges that the officials then tried “to get her to admit that she and her team had missed something or made a mistake”, which could be used to support their argument to block publication.



a person holding a sign: A copy of The Room Where It Happened outside the White House.


© Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP
A copy of The Room Where It Happened outside the White House.

Knight then declined to sign a declaration saying that Bolton’s book still contained classified information, intended to be filed in the lawsuit against Bolton. Despite efforts from what she described as “a rotating cast of Justice Department and White House attorneys … over the course of five days and a total of 18 hours of meetings”, she refused.

“Ms Knight asked the attorneys how it could be appropriate that a designedly apolitical process had been commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose. She asked them to explain why they were so insistent on pursuing litigation rather than resolving the potential national security issues through engagement with Ambassador Bolton and her team,” the letter reads. “The attorneys had no answer for her challenges, aside from a rote recitation of the government’s legal position that Ambassador Bolton had violated his contractual obligations by failing to wait for written clearance.”

The letter claims that when Knight “speculated that this litigation was happening ‘because the most powerful man in the world said that it needed to happen’, several registered their agreement with that diagnosis of the situation”.

Knight

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White House aides tried to block Bolton book, court is told

An aide to Trump also “instructed her to temporarily withhold any response” to a request from Bolton to review a chapter on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine so it could be released during the impeachment trial, wrote Knight’s lawyer, Kenneth L. Wainstein.

Wainstein said that his client had determined in April that Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” no longer contained any classified information, but the “apolitical process” was then “commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose” to go after Bolton. The actions she was asked to take were “unprecedented in her experience,” the letter said.

Knight said that political appointees repeatedly asked her to sign a declaration to use against Bolton that made a range of false assertions. She said that after her refusal, she was reassigned from the White House despite earlier expectations that she would transition to a permanent position there.

“She had never previously been asked to take the above-described measures, and she has never heard that predecessors in her position ever received such instructions in the course of their prepublication reviews,” the letter said.

Representatives for the National Security Council and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for Bolton, Charles J. Cooper, declined to comment on the specifics of the letter but said that his client had not asked Knight to disclose her account of events and that he had received a copy of the letter unexpectedly Tuesday evening.

The filing was an extraordinary twist in the legal saga surrounding Bolton’s book. The Trump administration unsuccessfully sought to block distribution of the book earlier this year after it was already printed, claiming despite Knight’s assessment that it contained large amounts of classified information. It is moving to seize his $2 million advance and has opened a criminal investigation, threatening criminal charges for unauthorized disclosures of secrets.

But the letter called into question the premise of all of those efforts — that the book, in its published form, contains any classified information.

Knight’s account is also the latest in a series of disclosures by current and former executive branch officials as the election nears accusing the president and his political appointees of putting his personal and political goals ahead of the public interest and an evenhanded application of the rule of law.

Wainstein recounted a series of irregularities that he said were unlike any other prepublication review that Knight had handled in her two years working at the National Security Council.

Knight, after extensive work with Bolton to change aspects of his draft to eliminate classified information, had told his team informally that it no longer had any unpublishable material. But the White House never sent a formal letter saying the process was over and political appointees in the White House directed Knight not to communicate with them in writing about the book.

In June, as the delay dragged on, Bolton and Simon & Schuster published the book, arguing that Knight’s informal assurance fulfilled the legal commitment

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Former staffer: White House politicized Bolton book review

WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials repeatedly exerted political pressure in an unsuccessful effort to block the release of former national security adviser John Bolton’s tell-all book, a career government records professional said in a court filing Wednesday.

After Bolton submitted his book for prepublication review last last year, it was Ellen Knight’s job at the White House to make sure it did not contain classified information that could possibly threaten U.S. national security.

For the first time, Knight recounted the monthslong prepublication review process that she says was replete with delay tactics, legal maneuverings and a shadow review by a political appointee who had no experience in that area. She contends the actions were aimed at discrediting her work and blocking the publication of Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened.”

Bolton’s book, offering a behind-the-scenes account of Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders, went on sale earlier this year. The Trump administration maintains that it contains classified information, and the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into its release.

Earlier, the Justice Department sued unsuccessfully to block the release of the book. A federal judge rejected the suit, partly because hundreds of thousands of copies had already been distributed. But the judge expressed concern that Bolton published the book before receiving a formal clearance letter, which Knight said was blocked by the White House.

Knight asked her attorney, Ken Wainstein, to write a letter for the court to give her first-hand account of the controversial review.

“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,” Wainstein wrote.

If authors lose confidence in the process, they might try to publish without submitting manuscripts for review, which “could result in unchecked disclosures of sensitive information and the potential for serious damage to our national security,” he wrote.

Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said Knight’s court filing confirms that Bolton did not receive the required written, prepublication approval before publishing.

“Mr. Bolton chose to publish a manuscript that four senior national security officials have stated, under penalty of perjury, contains classified information,” she said in a statement.

Knight was detailed from the National Archives and Records Administration to the National Security Council from August 2018 to August 2020. During that time, she and her staff handled more than 135 prepublication review requests, perusing more than 10,000 pages of manuscripts.

Knight and her colleague spent hundreds of hours over four months reviewing and researching information found in Bolton’s more than 500-page manuscript. Knight met with Bolton for a total of 14 hours and spoke on the phone with him 10 times, including two calls that lasted several hours, the filing said.

After completing her review in late April, she gave the manuscript to her superior, who confirmed that all sensitive or classified information she had determined was in the original manuscript had been removed.

Knight said that when she advised NSC

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Ex-NSC official who reviewed Bolton book claims political intervention by WH

Washington — A former National Security Council (NSC) official who led the prepublication review of former national security adviser John Bolton’s book for classified information detailed in a new court filing “unprecedented” involvement by political appointees in the White House who “commandeered” what is supposed to be an apolitical process.

A lawyer for Ellen Knight, the former Senior Director for Records Access and Information Security Management at the National Security Council (NSC), made the revelations in a new filing with the federal district court in the District of Columbia, which is considering a legal battle filed by the Trump administration against Bolton over publication of his book, “The Room Where It Happened.” The book was published by Simon & Schuster, a division of ViacomCBS.

In a letter to Bolton’s legal team and the Justice Department, attorney Kenneth Wainstein said Knight raised concerns about the actions of White House and Justice Department lawyers after her review of Bolton’s manuscript had been completed but while the Trump administration considered litigation to block publication, contending it still contained classified information. Bolton’s attorney filed the letter in court on Wednesday.

Knight, Wainstein wrote, warned that a “designedly apolitical process had been commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose.” She also speculated to Justice Department and White House lawyers that litigation against Bolton was occurring “because the most powerful man in the world said that it needed to happen,'” an assertion some did not dispute, according to Wainstein.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec defended the White House and Justice Department in a statement.

“Ms. Knight’s letter confirms that Mr. Bolton did not receive the appropriate and required written, pre-publication approval, and it is undisputed that the process was not completed at the time Mr. Bolton’s book was released,” she said. “The publication of a memoir by a former National Security Adviser, right after his departure, is an unprecedented action, and it is not surprising that National Security Council staff would pay close attention to ensure that the book does not contain the release of classified information.” 

In the letter, Knight’s attorney detailed the chain of events that began December 30, when prepublication review of Bolton’s manuscript began, through the end of her detail with the NSC, which ended August 20. 

According to Knight, Bolton’s manuscript initially contained “voluminous amounts of classified information and that it would take a significant effort to put it into publishable shape.”

Former White House Nat'l Security Adviser John Bolton Speaks At Duke University Forum
Former national security adviser John Bolton speaks at Duke University on February 17, 2020, in Durham, North Carolina.

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After working closely and speaking extensively with Bolton and his lawyer, Charles Cooper, the prepublication review process concluded on April 27, when it was determined that “all classification concerns had been addressed and that publication of the manuscript, as heavily revised, would disclose no information that would cause harm to our national security.”

Knight told Bolton she had no more suggested changes, but said the process was still ongoing. In late April, Wainstein said Knight contacted lawyers

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White House political staff is accused of wrongly intervening to block John Bolton book

White House officials were accused on Wednesday of improperly trying to block former national security adviser John Bolton from releasing his best-selling memoir by falsely claiming it contained classified information.

The accusation was made in a letter filed with a federal court in Washington by a lawyer for former National Security Council (NSC) official Ellen Knight, a career official who oversaw the prepublication review of Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened.”

Knight had by late April cleared the memoir for its planned June 23 publication, only to then see the process “commandeered by political appointees seemingly for a political purpose,” leading to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit to block publication, her lawyer Kenneth Wainstein said in the letter.

Wainstein also wrote that most, if not all, of the government lawyers Knight dealt with on the matter were “not entirely comfortable” with the strategy they were directed to implement toward the Bolton book.

This allegedly included having Michael Ellis, a politically appointed NSC lawyer and former aide to U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, an ally of President Donald Trump, conduct his own prepublication review of Bolton’s book despite lacking relevant training, and declare it still contained classified information.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday’s filing follows published reports that the Department of Justice had opened a criminal probe into whether Bolton illegally disclosed classified information, and that a grand jury had subpoenaed his publisher, Simon & Schuster, and his literary agent.

While the White House was unable to block the release of Bolton’s book, it is still suing to collect royalties and other payments Bolton receives from the book.

Bolton has denied wrongdoing. His lawyer Charles Cooper said in a statement he was assessing how Wainstein’s letter might affect the lawsuit.

“We did not solicit the letter in any way; it came as a complete surprise,” Cooper said.

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White House intervened to halt release of Bolton book with flawed classification review, federal official says

The Trump administration unsuccessfully sued in June to block the release of Bolton’s White House memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” after a review completed by Knight concluded in April it no longer contained classified information. At that point, however, an untrained Trump appointee undertook a new review and wrongly challenged hundreds of passages leading to the government litigation, Knight asserted.

Objecting that “a designedly apolitical process had been commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose,” Knight said several government attorneys agreed in a later debriefing when she speculated that the reason the Justice Department was suing Bolton was “because the most powerful man in the world said that it needed to happen,” Wainstein wrote.

Wednesday’s court filing is the latest revelation triggered by Bolton’s disclosures over his 17-month tenure as President Trump’s top national security official, in which he painted a withering portrait of Trump as an “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed” leader who repeatedly sought foreign leaders’ assistance for his personal benefit.

It comes after a June 20 ruling in which U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia denied the Trump administration’s request to halt publication, but said that government might be able to seize Bolton’s profits if the book’s release came without written White House authorization that it contained no classified material.

Bolton “exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability” in further litigation, the judge warned.

All sides are due back in court Thursday for further arguments. It is not clear what impact Knight’s disclosures may have. Lamberth said Bolton should have sued the government instead of“unilaterally” opting out of the review process if he was dissatisfied with it.

Separately, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas to Bolton’s publisher as part of a Justice Department investigation into whether he criminally mishandled classified information in the book.

In a statement last week, Bolton’s lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, said, “Ambassador Bolton emphatically rejects any claim that he acted improperly, let alone criminally, in connection with the publication of his book, and he will cooperate fully, as he has throughout, with any official inquiry into his conduct.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said, “Mr. Bolton chose to publish a manuscript that four senior National Security officials have stated, under penalty of perjury, contains classified information,” and that “Ms. Knight’s letter confirms that Mr. Bolton did not receive the appropriate and required written, pre-publication approval.” Kupec added, “The publication of a memoir by a former National Security Adviser, right after his departure, is an unprecedented action, and it is not surprising that National Security Council staff would pay close attention to ensure that the book does not contain the release of classified information.”

Deputy Assistant Attorney General David M. Morrell in June acknowledged in court that he knew of no precedent in which high-level officials intervened in classification reviews, but said, however irregular, the process was entirely

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White House is accused of wrongly intervening to block John Bolton book

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – White House officials were accused on Wednesday of improperly trying to block former national security adviser John Bolton from releasing his best-selling memoir by falsely claiming it contained classified information.

The accusation was made in a letter filed with a federal court in Washington by a lawyer for former National Security Council (NSC) official Ellen Knight, a career official who oversaw the prepublication review of Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened.”

Knight had by late April cleared the memoir for its planned June 23 publication, only to then see the process “commandeered by political appointees seemingly for a political purpose,” leading to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit to block publication, her lawyer Kenneth Wainstein said in the letter.

Wainstein also wrote that most, if not all, of the government lawyers Knight dealt with on the matter were “not entirely comfortable” with the strategy they were directed to implement toward the Bolton book.

This allegedly included having Michael Ellis, a politically appointed NSC lawyer and former aide to U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, an ally of President Donald Trump, conduct his own prepublication review of Bolton’s book despite lacking relevant training, and declare it still contained classified information.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday’s filing follows published reports that the Department of Justice had opened a criminal probe into whether Bolton illegally disclosed classified information, and that a grand jury had subpoenaed his publisher, Simon & Schuster, and his literary agent.

While the White House was unable to block the release of Bolton’s book, it is still suing to collect royalties and other payments Bolton receives from the book.

Bolton has denied wrongdoing. His lawyer Charles Cooper said in a statement he was assessing how Wainstein’s letter might affect the lawsuit.

“We did not solicit the letter in any way; it came as a complete surprise,” Cooper said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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