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)