A federal judge, comparing former national security adviser John Bolton's upcoming book to a horse that's already "out of the barn," is considering the government's argument that the book should be stopped from publication because it contains classified material.
This is the horse that's out of the barn: Several hundred thousand copies of the book are sitting in warehouses across the country, ready to be released next week, an excerpt has been published in the Wall Street Journal, and many news organizations have obtained the book and published reports on what it contains.
Judge Royce Lamberth questioned the department's attorneys about why they were bringing their litigation now, after the book is already in the public sphere.
David Morrell, arguing for the Justice Department, said this is not an "all or nothing proposition," and the government still has an interest in stemming the flow of classified text. Yes, copies of the book have been disseminated, Morrell said, but it is still within Lamberth's jurisdiction to stop the sales of audio books and e-books.
"The onus is on Mr. Bolton to figure out how to do this. He's created this mess. He's created this problem. He's breached his obligation under contract," Morrell told the U.S. District Court. If he was dissatisfied with the process, Morrell argued, "he should have sought a declaratory judgment."
But Lamberth was also curious about the timeline of the national security council's original review of the book, undertaken with Bolton by Ellen Knight, who did not submit an affadavit in the case, and he wanted to know why Bolton did not wait for written authorization before sending it to his publisher.
Lamberth also noticed that there was no submitted affidavit from Knight, who did the original prepublication review with Bolton before a second review was started by the national security council senior director for intelligence, Michael Ellis.
Bolton's lawyer, Charles Cooper, had his own metaphor to add to the arguments, describing the scene at the White House yesterday when CBS News' Paula Reid read from the book as she questioned press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. "If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video clip is worth a thousand metaphors." Cooper said. "The idea that the horse is out of the barn is an understatement here, your honor."
Cooper also argued that Bolton was not violating the law by including potentially sensitive compartmentalized information (SCI) in his book because after his original review with Knight, the government did not indicate to him that there was any material of that kind included. The government says there are at least six examples of classified information, including three that were flagged before Ellis' review. One was classified as a result of Ellis' review, and two others were subsequently classified after further research.
Bolton's soon-to-be published memoir, "The Room Where It Happened," covers his 17-month tenure as President Trump's national security adviser. It portrays Mr. Trump's words and conduct in office and his approach to foreign policy in largely unflattering terms — Bolton said in an interview with ABC News that Mr. Trump is not "fit for office" and lacks the competence to carry out the job." Simon & Schuster, which is publishing the memoir, is a division of ViacomCBS,
Lamberth plans to review the six examples of material the Justice Department has identified in Bolton's book as classified on Friday before ruling in the matter.