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.
Vengeance Is Mine, Saith the President
Acquitted of impeachment charges, Trump goes after those who defied him.
- John Bolton,
- Joe Manchin,
- Adam Schiff,
- Hunter Biden,
- Doug Jones,
- Gordon Sondland,
- Alexander Vindman,
- Yevgeny Vindman,
- Mitt Romney,
- Nancy Pelosi,
- Chuck Schumer,
- Jerry Nadler,
- Debbie Dingell,
- New York air travelers,
- federal prosecutors,
- the F.B.I.
It’s been a mere week since Senate Republicans acquitted President Trump in his impeachment trial — assuring him once and for all that he needn’t fret about congressional accountability — but he has already made significant progress on his enemies list.
Members of Congress, administration officials, law enforcement officials, residents of blue states — anyone who has ever displeased Mr. Trump is a potential target. Heads may not wind up on literal pikes, but the president is already neck-deep into his reprisal tour.
The president’s targets can be sorted into multiple different categories, some better equipped than others to endure his wrath. Democratic senators such as Mr. Jones of Alabama and Mr. Manchin of West Virginia, both of whom have drawn Trumpian ire for their votes to convict the president, understand that politics is a blood sport. Ditto House members like Ms. Dingell, whom Mr. Trump randomly attacked again over the weekend, and Mr. Schiff, who was the point person on impeachment. These professionals know how to brush off — or brush back — the taunts.
After a particularly childish screed, in which Mr. Trump called Mr. Manchin “Joe Munchkin,” the West Virginia lawmaker returned fire Monday on CNN: “I guess he’s confused on that, because I am a little bigger than him. He’s got me about 30 pounds on weight. But I am a little taller than him.”
And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, can certainly hold her own against a presidential tantrum.
Mr. Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict Mr. Trump of abuse of power, is more exposed. It’s not just the president mocking him and denigrating his religious faith. The White House also blasted out nasty talking points for surrogates to disseminate. Title: “Romney (Once Again) Ditches Principles to Seek Far Left’s Adulation.”
That said, Mr. Romney is a former presidential combatant. He knows how to take a punch. He also isn’t up for re-election until 2024, plenty of time for all this to pass. In the meantime, he’ll enjoy some brand burnishing in non-Trump circles for having followed his conscience.
Mr. Trump is also grumpy with Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser who, The Times reported, wrote in his forthcoming memoir that the president told him that there was a link between Ukraine aid and the announcement of investigations of Joe Biden and his son. In addition to calling Mr. Bolton a liar, Mr. Trump has sought to block the release of his book, and there is talk of stripping him of his security clearance.
But Mr. Bolton, too, is nobody’s victim. He is a seasoned Washington knife-fighter who played his own coy game with impeachment investigators.
It’s also hard to feel too sorry for Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union whom Mr. Trump fired last week. Mr. Sondland essentially bought his diplomatic post with fat donations to Mr. Trump’s inauguration. He changed his testimony mid-impeachment, rendering him a less than exemplary witness. He is, above all, a cautionary tale for those willing to sell their souls for power and prestige.
Far more troubling is the assault on not-so-political public servants, such as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key impeachment witness. On Friday, Colonel Vindman was ousted from his post on the National Security Council.
Creepier still, the president also fired Colonel Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, a lawyer at the National Security Council who was not an impeachment witness. Such gratuitous score-settling carries a whiff of the Cosa Nostra, in which talking to the feds results in one’s family being targeted — in part to send a message to other potential rats.
Mr. Trump is making perfectly clear the high cost of questioning his questionable behavior or cooperating with Congress.
Also this week, federal prosecutors are back in the president’s cross hairs. On Monday, prosecutors recommended sentencing Roger Stone, Mr. Trump’s longtime political fixer who was convicted in November on charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence, to seven to nine years behind bars. This did not sit well with the president, who was up in the wee hours on Tuesday tweeting his displeasure. “Disgraceful!” he erupted shortly before 1 a.m. Not quite an hour later, he elaborated: “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
By Tuesday afternoon, the Justice Department had dutifully announced it would revisit the “grossly disproportionate” sentencing recommendation. All four prosecutors handling the case promptly withdrew.
Far from denying Operation Vengeance, the White House has been justifying it. In the run-up to the president’s acquittal address last Thursday, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, assured Fox News viewers that he would be talking about “just how horribly he was treated and, you know, that maybe people should pay for that.”
Mr. Trump is now hard at work making that happen. And who’s to stop him?