WASHINGTON — An attorney for former national security adviser John Bolton has pushed back against the White House’s assessment that his book manuscript contains classified material and asked for an expedited review of a chapter about Ukraine in case he is called to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.
The Jan. 24 email to the White House from Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, was in response to a letter from the National Security Council a day earlier warning that the manuscript contained a “significant amounts” of classified material that could not be disclosed publicly.
“We do not believe that any of that information could reasonably be considered classified,” Cooper responded in a email, according to a copy he released Wednesday.
He added that Bolton is “preparing” for the possibility he could be called to testify in the ongoing Senate trial, writing that it was “imperative that we have the results of your review of that chapter as soon as possible.”
Cooper said in a statement Wednesday that he has not received a response to his “urgent request.”
The previously private exchange signals the likelihood of a protracted dispute over the contents of Bolton’s book and whether he could testify about his knowledge of President Donald Trump’s activities related to Ukraine.
Revelations about the contents of his manuscript have intensified the debate on Capitol Hill about whether to call witnesses for the Senate trial. Trump has attacked his former adviser, tweeting Wednesday that Bolton wrote “a nasty & untrue book.”
The communication between Cooper and the White House occurred last week, just a few days before The New York Times published details from his manuscript, including Bolton’s claim that Trump told him in August that he was tying Ukrainian investigations of his political opponent to continuing foreign aid to that country.
The allegation is at the center of the impeachment trial unfolding on Capitol Hill.
In a Jan. 23 letter to Cooper, the White House official responsible for vetting such manuscripts said Bolton’s book contained classified material, including some considered top secret.
The letter, written by Ellen Knight, senior director for Records, Access and Information Security Management, said Bolton would be breaking his nondisclosure agreement with the U.S. government if he published the book without deleting the classified material.
In her letter, Knight said her office would work with Bolton to “revise the manuscript” so he can “tell his story in a manner that protects U.S. national security.”
The letter indicates that Knight and Cooper had also spoken on the telephone the day before.
“The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information,” she wrote.
Cooper had submitted the manuscript to the National Security Council for vetting on Dec. 30. In his letter accompanying the draft, addressed to Knight, he said that his client believed that no classified information was discussed.
“Ambassador Bolton has carefully sought to avoid any discussion in the manuscript of … classified information, and we accordingly do not believe that prepublication review is required,” Cooper wrote. “We are nonetheless submitting this manuscript out of an abundance of caution.”
A person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the dispute, said the Bolton team expects a lengthy fight over the issue.
In addition to question about the inclusion of classified material, legal experts said the White House might also challenge Bolton’s account — in a book or elsewhere — as a violation of executive privilege.
A number of White House officials, including chief counsel Pat Cipollone, top national security lawyer John Eisenberg and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, have not seen the manuscript, according to White House aides.
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The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.