WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Monday that former national security adviser John Bolton could face criminal liability if his memoir is released, asserting that the book contains classified material.
Eight days before Bolton’s book was set to go on sale, Trump warned that the administration may “soon be in court.”
“I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified,” he told reporters at the White House. “So that would mean that, if he wrote a book and if the book gets out, he’s broken the law, and I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.”
Trump’s remarks come amid an escalating standoff between the White House and the longtime conservative foreign policy hand who alleges in his memoir that the president committed “Ukraine-like transgressions” in a number of foreign policy decisions, according to details released by the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
The president is livid about the publication of the book and has been pushing his staff to take action to block it, White House officials said.
Members of the White House Counsel’s Office spoke with Justice Department officials Monday about possible legal action, but it was unclear when such an action would happen.
Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” is due to go on sale June 23 and has been shipped to distribution centers across the country.
Bolton’s attorney Charles Cooper has said that the memoir does not contain any classified material and that Bolton participated in an arduous review process to vet it for material that could endanger national security.
During an exchange with reporters Monday, Trump said it was “highly inappropriate” for his former national security adviser to write the book.
He was joined by Attorney General William Barr, who told reporters, “We don’t believe Bolton has gone through the process” required to clear books by government officials on topics of national security.
“He hasn’t completed the process,” Barr said, adding that the administration is now trying to get Bolton to do so.
“This is unprecedented, really,” the attorney general said. “I don’t know of any book that has been published so quickly while the officeholders are still in government, and it’s about very current events, current leaders and current policy issues, many of which are currently classified.”
Legal experts said any court challenge by the administration would face stiff odds.
“A half-century ago, the Supreme Court rejected a similar attempt by the Nixon administration to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and since then, it has been firmly established that prior restraints on publication are unconstitutional and un-American,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
Last week, the White House warned Bolton, who was an ambassador to the United Nations during George W. Bush’s administration, that his book needs further revision to comply with a review process required of government employees writing about national security and intelligence issues.
A letter to Bolton from John Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel, noted that the former national security adviser signed a nondisclosure agreement when he began his White House service in April 2018.
“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information could be exploited by a foreign power, thereby causing significant harm to the national security of the United States,” Eisenberg wrote, telling Bolton that a redacted manuscript would be returned to him June 19, just days before the already-published book is due to go on sale.
In response, Cooper said his client scrupulously complied with national security vetting requirements. He and Bolton have said from the outset that the book did not contain classified material.
“Simon & Schuster is fully supportive of Ambassador Bolton’s First Amendment right to tell the story of his time in the Trump White House,” Julia Prosser, vice president and director of publicity for the publishing house, said in a statement last week.
“In the months leading up to the publication of ‘The Room Where It Happened,’ Bolton worked in cooperation with the National Security Council to incorporate changes to the text that addressed NSC concerns,” she added. “The final, published version of this book reflects those changes.”
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The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez and Ann Marimow contributed to this report.