Judge questions how to block John Bolton book since ‘the horse seems to be out of the barn’

Tribune Content Agency

John Bolton’s book is already off to the races, so what’s the pointing in trying to stop it?

Washington, D.C., Federal Court Judge Royce Lamberth grappled with that question Friday as he considered the Trump administration’s bid to block Bolton’s bombshell of a book from being published over allegations that it’s jam-packed with classified information.

“It certainly looks difficult to me as to what I can do about those books all over the country,” Lamberth said in a virtual emergency hearing. “The horse, as we used to say in Texas, seems to be out of the barn.”

The former national security adviser’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” has made explosive headlines all week, as the New York Daily News and other outlets obtained copies and reported the tell-all’s juiciest chapters ahead of its expected Tuesday publication, including damning allegations of President Donald Trump pressing China to help him win reelection and giving “personal favors to dictators” like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Moreover, Simon & Schuster, Bolton’s publisher, says it has already shipped hundreds of thousands of copies to bookstores and distributors across the country in advance of the drop date, rendering it even more difficult to claw back the memoir.

Still, Lamberth gave Bolton a talking to for apparently bailing on a White House classification review of his book.

“Once he invoked that process, he can’t just walk away, and he didn’t tell the government he was walking away,” Lamberth said.

With Trump fuming over the book, the Justice Department alleges Bolton cut the classification review short and gave Simon & Schuster the green light to publish, exposing classified secrets in the process.

That would make Bolton guilty of violating federal laws against unauthorized disclosures of classified material, a violation that could warrant criminal charges, Justice Department lawyers argued in Friday’s hearing.

The lawyers said some damage control was still possible and asked Lamberth to order Bolton and his publisher to suspend Tuesday’s release.

“He has flung the barnyard doors open. He has let the horses out, and now he looks at us collectively and says, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” Justice Department attorney David Morrell said.

As to figuring out how to stop a book already in wide circulation, Morrel said the “onus” is on Bolton.

“This is a problem of his own making,” he said.

Charles Cooper, Bolton’s attorney, countered that the former national security adviser actually concluded the classification scrub.

Ellen Knight, a career official with whom Bolton worked on the review, even notified him in late April that the book had the all-clear, Cooper said.

A few days after Knight’s notice, another White House official stepped in and said not so fast, claiming another review was in order because additional classified material had been identified.

Cooper suggested the late-stage intervention from the White House was a nakedly political attempt by Trump to prevent publication of an unflattering portrait of his presidency.

Among other damning claims, Bolton writes that Trump is “erratic,” “stunningly uninformed” and fundamentally “unfit for office.” Trump has fired back by calling Bolton a “whacko” and “a sick puppy” while lamenting that he should’ve fired him sooner.

Lamberth didn’t immediately rule on the administration’s request, saying he needed more time to mull it over.

The judge did, however, note that he won’t give the White House “blind deference” as to what material can be deemed classified, suggesting the matter may have to be hashed out in additional court hearings, even as the Tuesday publication date looms.

The Bolton case raises significant First Amendment and national security issues, with potential for precedent in how to handle the publication of books by government officials with access to some of the nation’s most closely kept secrets.


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