(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Any conversation with me is classified, President Trump insisted at a press conference yesterday. Because once we had a scholar of constitutional law as president, and now we have the opposite of that.
The presidents voluminous knickers are in a twist this week over the upcoming release of Ambassador John Boltons book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, which is scheduled to hit the shelves on June 23.
As a former federal employee, Bolton had to submit his manuscript to the National Security Council to ensure it contained no classified material. Since December 30, when he dropped the 592-page tell all about his time as Trumps National Security Advisor on the NSCs doorstep, Bolton undertook multiple rounds of revision in coordination with Ellen Knight, the agencys senior director for prepublication review.
According to a Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by his lawyer Chuck Cooper, Knight acknowledged that the book contained no classified material, telling Bolton on April 27, thats the last edit I really have to provide for you and promising that the the final clearance letter would be ready in short order.
And then nothing happened. At least not until June 7, when the Washington Post broke the news that Boltons book was going to print on June 23, come hell or high water. At which point White House lawyer John Eisenberg who is, not for nothing, smack in the middle of the Ukraine saga detailed in the book wrote a letter to Bolton insisting that manuscript was chock full of classified information and publication would pose a great threat to national security.
Cooper insists that his client has satisfied his legal obligations to the NSC, and any further interference by the White House is simply an attempt to censor information embarrassing to the president. Which is a bold strategy, Cotton!
While the wisdom of going to print without clearance is debatable, the legality is not. This has been settled law since 1971 when the Supreme Court refused to stop the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers. And President Twitterfingers may have forgotten that case, but Bill certainly remembers that prior restraint is really not a thing.
And yet, Donald Trump promises that the Justice Department will be filing suit imminently to enjoin publication of Boltons book.
Theyre in court or theyll soon be in court, he told reporters yesterday. If theyre in court to do LOCK HER UPS to John Bolton, news of it hasnt broken yet.
And thats criminal liability, by the way. youre talking about. Youre not talking about, like, hes got to return three dollars that he made on a book. Thats called criminal liability. Thats a big thing. You know, Hillary Clinton, she deleted 33,000 emails. And if we ever found out what those emails say, she wouldve had a liability. Thats what you have: You have liability.
Barr himself was more circumspect, insisting that Bolton was flouting the legitimate classification review process, before going on to bizarrely insist that no one ever wrote a book about a sitting president, and discussions of current events areby their very nature classified.
And this is unprecedented, really, because I dont know if any book thats been published so quickly while, you know, the office holders are still in in government and its about very current events and current leaders and current discussions and current policy issues, which many of which are inherently classified.
Which is entirely true, if you leave out Cliff Sims, who fought his own protracted battle for clearance to publish Team of Vipers in January of 2019, just seven months after leaving the White House. Also that part about inherent classification, which is completely made up.
But if the Justice Department wants to go running to the courts for a prior restraint on speech based on the newly minted doctrine of inherent classification, they can try. Itll probably just help the Mustache Man sell more books but, hey, knock yourself out.
The White House vs. John Bolton [WSJ]Trump Administration Expected to Sue to Block Bolton Book [Bloomberg]
Elizabeth Dye (@5DollarFeminist) lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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