A federal judge on Friday appeared sceptical John Bolton’s book could be blocked before its release date next week, suggesting the Trump administration’s last-ditch effort to stop its publication may fail.
Royce Lamberth, the judge overseeing a Department of Justice lawsuit against Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, said at a hearing it was unclear what he could do given the book was already printed and distributed.
However, Mr Lamberth also faulted Mr Bolton for failing to wait for the book to be cleared through the US government’s pre-publication review process. The justice department has asked any profits from the book be seized if it is published on Tuesday.
“The horse, as we used to say in Texas, seems to be out of the barn,” Mr Lamberth said during the teleconference hearing about whether to restrain the book’s distribution. “It certainly looks difficult to me about what I can do about those books all over the country.”
Later, he commented Mr Bolton nonetheless had an “obligation” to wait for the review process to complete before publishing.
“He can’t just walk away, and he didn’t even tell the government he was walking away, he just told his publisher to publish,” the judge, an appointee of Ronald Reagan, told Mr Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper.
Though the judge has not yet ruled, the remarks raise the prospect that Mr Bolton will succeed in publishing his explosive account of his time at the White House but could also lose any earnings from the widely anticipated book.
The hearing on Friday came even as hundreds of thousands of copies of the memoir, The Room Where it Happened, have been distributed across the US and the rest of the world by Simon & Schuster, Mr Bolton’s publisher.
Excerpts of the book have already been published in the media, revealing Mr Bolton’s claims that Mr Trump behaved corruptly in his foreign affairs dealings, including an allegation the US president urged Xi Jinping, China’s president, to buy US agricultural products to ensure his re-election in 2020. Mr Trump has denounced Mr Bolton as a “liar” and a “wacko”.
The DoJ sued Mr Bolton on Tuesday for breach of contract, arguing that he violated an agreement to get clearance for any book from the government before publication.
Such agreements are standard for US government employees who handle classified information. On Wednesday the government upped the stakes and sought a temporary restraining order to halt the publication of the memoir.
Mr Bolton initially provided his book to the White House in December for review and was told in April by a career official at the National Security Council that his revised version contained no classified information. Subsequently, his manuscript was reviewed by a political appointee who disagreed.
The former national security adviser has complained that the book was being suppressed for political reasons. Though Mr Lamberth on Friday did not dismiss those concerns, he noted the government’s case included affidavits from two senior intelligence officials saying Mr Bolton’s book contained classified information.
“I’m not going to give blind deference [to the government], but I am going to give some deference,” he said. The judge said he would rule after conducting a review of the classified materials in the case.