Federal judge denies Trump administration’s attempt to block release of Bolton’s book

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WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton listens to U.S. President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. President El-Sisi is visiting Washington for bilateral talks with President Trump. Trump answered questions from the press about his immigration policy. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(CNN) — A federal judge has denied the Trump administration’s attempt to block the upcoming publication of a book by former national security adviser John Bolton.

Judge Royce Lamberth of the DC District Court wrote in a 10-page decision Saturday morning that the Justice Department’s arguments weren’t enough to stop the book’s release. He cited how the book, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday, had already been widely distributed, and could easily be distributed further on the internet, even if the court said it could not be.

“For reasons that hardly need to be stated, the Court will not order a nationwide seizure and destruction of a political memoir,” Lamberth wrote.

The judge’s ruling Saturday quickly dispels a long-shot attempt by the Trump administration to stymy the book’s release — an attempt roundly condemned as antithetical to the First Amendment. But Lamberth’s decision also keeps alive major risks for Bolton, such as the administration’s effort to claw back proceeds from the book, including from any movie and TV rights, and other consequences for disclosing classified information.

Lamberth also noted Bolton could still be exposed to criminal liability.

The court fight over Bolton’s book has turned the former national security adviser’s skirmish with President Donald Trump into a symbolic fight over freedom of speech and the press, and allowed Bolton to push for an outside referee over whether the White House’s national security decision-making was proper, or done to protect Trump politically in an election year.

Lamberth had heard from Trump administration lawyers and Bolton’s team at an almost two-hour hearing Friday, three days after the Justice Department first sued. He reviewed the executive branch’s classification descriptions in private following the public hearing.

In the decision Saturday, Lamberth also slammed Bolton for moving the publication forward before he formally got the administration’s approval.

“He opted out of the review process before its conclusion. Unilateral fast-tracking carried the benefit of publicity and sales, and the cost of substantial risk exposure. This was Bolton’s bet: If he is right and the book does not contain classified information, he keeps the upside mentioned above; but if he is wrong, he stands to lose his profits from the book deal, exposes himself to criminal liability, and imperils national security,” Lamberth wrote. “Bolton was wrong.”

Lamberth said the Trump administration convinced him on Friday that sensitive national security information was still included in the book. The judge didn’t make a decision at the almost two-hour hearing Friday and said he would wait to review more details from the Justice Department before deciding.

“Upon reviewing the classified materials, as well as the declarations filed on the public docket, the Court is persuaded that Defendant Bolton likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations,” Lamberth wrote.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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