Officials are attempting to use national security as a pretext to prevent the publication of his memoir.
President Trump doesn’t want John Bolton to publish his book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” It was supposed to come out in March, but Simon & Schuster was twice forced to push the publication date back more than three months, to June 23, while the manuscript underwent “prepublication review” by the National Security Council (NSC).
The purpose of prepublication review is to protect national-security secrets. Regulations disallow its use “to prevent embarrassment to a person.” Yet that’s how the White House has used the process in this case. The effort violates those regulations and Mr. Bolton’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.
Mr. Bolton, who was Mr. Trump’s national security adviser for 18 months, took care as he wrote to avoid revealing anything that might be classified. He instructed me, as his lawyer, to submit the manuscript to Ellen Knight, the NSC’s senior director for prepublication review of materials written by NSC personnel.
I sent Ms. Knight the manuscript on Dec. 30, days after the House had impeached the president and amid speculation that the Senate would subpoena Mr. Bolton to testify. Because the manuscript includes a chapter about Ukraine—the subject of the impeachment—the risk that Mr. Trump and his aides would commandeer prepublication review was obvious.
I therefore emphasized to Ms. Knight that in submitting his manuscript Mr. Bolton was relying on the regulations expressly limiting prepublication review to career government officials regularly charged with that responsibility. Those rules prohibit officials from classifying information “to prevent embarrassment to a person” or to “prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of national security.” Ms. Knight assured me the review’s sole purpose would be to prevent the disclosure of classified information.
What followed was perhaps the most extensive and intensive prepublication review in NSC history. Mr. Bolton and Ms. Knight spent almost four months going through the nearly 500-page manuscript four times, often line by line.
Round one began on Jan. 23, as the impeachment trial was under way. Ms. Knight wrote to me that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript contained “significant amounts of classified information” and that she would provide “detailed guidance regarding next steps that should enable you to revise the manuscript and move forward as expeditiously as possible.”
A few days later Vanity Fair reported that “the president is out for revenge against his adversaries.” The article stated that the president “has an enemies list,” that “Bolton is at the top of the list,” and that the “campaign against Bolton” included Ms. Knight’s Jan. 23 letter. It also reported that the president “wants Bolton to be criminally investigated.”
On Feb. 7, two days after Mr. Trump’s acquittal, Ms. Knight suggested that “to further the iterative process, it would be most efficient for me to meet with [Mr. Bolton] to review each instance of classified information in detail.” Meantime, the White House had acknowledged that NSC staff briefed White House counsel Pat Cipollone about the book while Mr. Cipollone was leading the impeachment defense.
Mr. Bolton and Ms. Knight met on Feb. 21. That same day the Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump had “directly weighed in” on the prepublication review, “telling his staff that he views John Bolton as ‘a traitor,’ that everything he uttered to the departed aide about national security is classified and that he will seek to block the book’s publication.” The Post also reported that Mr. Trump vowed to a group of television news anchors: “We’re going to try and block publication of the book.” The president added, “After I leave office, he can do this.”
Mr. Bolton’s meeting with Ms. Knight lasted four hours. She later wrote that they “reviewed the preliminary results of three chapters in the draft manuscript in detail.” Mr. Bolton took five pages of handwritten notes as they discussed her specific concerns. Three days later, Ms. Knight wrote that the meeting had been “most productive,” and that “it would be most helpful to the process if we hold one or more following meetings . . . to discuss the remaining portions of the draft manuscript.”
They met three more times in the first week of March for more than 10 additional hours. They meticulously reviewed each of Ms. Knight’s concerns in the remaining 11 chapters, producing 34 more pages of handwritten notes. Following her guidance and his own notes, Mr. Bolton revised his manuscript. By March 9 he had resubmitted all 14 chapters to begin the second round of the iterative review.
Mr. Bolton didn’t hear from Ms. Knight again until Friday, March 27, when she wrote, “I appreciate your efforts to address the classification concerns in the latest draft version you submitted. Many of the changes are satisfactory. However, additional edits are required to ensure the protection of national security information. To assist in making the additional required changes, I will provide a list of required edits and language substitutions to guide you in this next stage of revising the draft.”
Her list amounted to 17 single-spaced pages of typed comments, questions, suggestions of specific alternative language, and citations to publicly available source material. Mr. Bolton worked through the weekend and responded in full on March 30, accepting the vast majority of Ms. Knight’s suggestions and proposing alternative solutions to others.
The third round of the review occurred in an April 13 phone conversation when Ms. Knight provided a much shorter list of remaining concerns after reviewing Mr. Bolton’s March 30 revisions. They agreed on these language changes, which were delivered to Ms. Knight on April 14.
During the April 13 call, Ms. Knight said she would review the full manuscript one more time, to recheck resolved issues and ensure she hadn’t overlooked anything. That final review resulted in two further phone calls, on April 21 and 24, in which she conveyed her final round of edits. Mr. Bolton promptly responded with the revisions by April 24. On April 27, after clarifying one previously discussed edit, Ms. Knight confirmed “that’s the last edit I really have to provide for you.” The lengthy, laborious process was over.
Yet when Mr. Bolton asked when he would receive the letter confirming the book was cleared, Ms. Knight cryptically replied that her “interaction” with unnamed others in the White House about the book had “been very delicate” and that there were “some internal process considerations to work through.” She thought the letter might be ready that afternoon but would “know more by the end of the day.” Six weeks later, Mr. Bolton has yet to receive a clearance letter. He hasn’t heard from Ms. Knight since May 7.
We did hear from the White House on June 8. John A. Eisenberg, the president’s deputy counsel for national security, asserted in a letter that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript contains classified information and that publishing the book would violate his nondisclosure agreements.
This last-minute allegation came after an intensive four-month review, after weeks of silence from the White House, and—as Mr. Eisenberg admits in his letter—after press reports alerted the White House that Mr. Bolton’s book would be published on June 23. This is a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import. This attempt will not succeed, and Mr. Bolton’s book will be published June 23.
Netflix Blocks Show in Saudi Arabia Critical of Saudi Prince
Netflix has blocked an episode of its show “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj” from streaming in Saudi Arabia after the Saudi government complained that the episode — which is critical of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman — violated its cybercrime laws.
In the episode, first shown in October, Mr. Minhaj critiques the United States’ longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia after the murder of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Minhaj said, “and I mean that as a Muslim and an American.”
After receiving a takedown request last month from the Saudi government’s Communications and Information Technology Commission, Netflix removed the episode from viewing in Saudi Arabia last week.
In a statement, Netflix defended its decision: “We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law.”
.. The episode remains available to Netflix customers elsewhere in the world, and it can also be seen by viewers in Saudi Arabia through the show’s YouTube channel
.. Mr. Minhaj has not commented publicly on the removal of the episode. But in an interview published in The Atlantic last month, Mr. Minhaj spoke of the fear he felt after creating it.
“There was a lot of discussion in my family about not doing it,” he said in the interview. “I’ve just come to personal and spiritual terms with what the repercussions are.”