Government Lawsuit Over John Bolton’s Memoir May Proceed, Judge Rules

WASHINGTON — A judge declined on Thursday to dismiss a federal lawsuit against John R. Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser, in which the Justice Department is seeking to seize his $2 million advance and any future proceeds from his recently published memoir.

In a 27-page opinion, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia rejected an argument by Mr. Bolton’s legal team that the case should be thrown out, saying the government had put forth a valid legal complaint.

“The government alleges that Bolton shared his manuscript with Simon & Schuster, and Bolton never received written authorization to share his book. Accordingly, the complaint sufficiently alleges that Bolton violated his prepublication review obligation by sharing his manuscript before the review ended,” Judge Lamberth wrote, adding that none of Mr. Bolton’s contrary arguments “are convincing.”

The case centers on a dispute over how Mr. Bolton went about publishing his book, “The Room Where It Happened,” which is highly critical of Mr. Trump. He had signed several nondisclosure agreements as a condition of receiving access to classified information. The agreements are generally understood to require officials to submit future writings about their work to a prepublication review process meant to ensure they contain no classified information.

Mr. Bolton did submit his book to that process, and after months of negotiations and revisions, the career National Security Council official then in charge of such matters, Ellen Knight, told him orally that she was satisfied the revamped manuscript contained no classified information. Mr. Bolton then had Simon & Schuster publish it.

But the White House never sent Mr. Bolton written notice that he had permission to publish it. Political appointees of Mr. Trump prevented Ms. Knight from sending such a letter, and then began a second review of the manuscript that purported to discover that it was still replete with classified information, despite Ms. Knight’s views to the contrary.

With Mr. Trump demanding legal action against Mr. Bolton, the Justice Department then sued him — first trying to block further distribution of the already-printed book, which Judge Lamberth rejected in June, and then seeking to seize Mr. Bolton’s proceeds from it, which Judge Lamberth has signaled he is more likely to eventually approve. (The department has also opened a criminal investigation.)

Mr. Bolton’s lawyers had nevertheless argued that Judge Lamberth should dismiss the case. They said that a close parsing of the language of the nondisclosure agreements showed that they should be interpreted as requiring Mr. Bolton to know that he was disclosing information that might be classified to set off any right to take his money — and that Ms. Knight’s verbal assurances meant he lacked that knowledge.

But in his ruling, Judge Lamberth interpreted the contracts differently. He said Mr. Bolton had an obligation to wait until he received formal written notification, regardless of what was in his mind.

A Justice Department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said, “We are pleased with the ruling.”

Charles J. Cooper, a lawyer for Mr. Bolton, said that, “The court’s decision, which we are still studying, means that the case will now move forward to the phase in which the parties will develop and present their evidence to the court.”

The Bolton legal team has also asked Judge Lamberth, if he let the case proceed, to order the White House to turn over evidence to them about the process that administration officials used to handle the manuscript, letting his lawyers know what the government considers classified and permitting them to read internal White House emails and depose witnesses.

Ms. Knight has accused Trump political appointees of illegitimately politicizing the prepublication review process for Mr. Bolton’s book, and Mr. Bolton’s lawyers want to make the case that the government breached its own duty to handle the matter in good faith — and that nothing in the book is truly classified.

But a Justice Department lawyer argued last week against permitting any such “discovery,” saying Mr. Bolton’s decision to publish the book without waiting for written permission is itself sufficient to trigger a ruling that he must forfeit his proceeds from it.

In another legal matter related to a memoir and prepublication review, a federal judge Northern Virginia this week entered a judgment in a case against Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed archives of classified surveillance and hacking related documents to journalists in 2013.

Mr. Snowden has been indicted on suspicion of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and has been living in Russia. But he has given dozens of paid speeches by teleconference, and last year published a memoir, “Permanent Record,” without submitting the prepared remarks or the book manuscript to the prepublication review process.

When his book was published, the Justice Department filed a similar lawsuit —- although it did not try to block publication of the book — seeking to seize Mr. Snowden’s past and future profits from such activities.

In December, the court ruled that Mr. Snowden breached his obligations, and on Tuesday, it entered a judgment saying Mr. Snowden should disgorge more than $5.2 million. It is not clear how the government will collect those funds, however.

In a post on Twitter on Sept. 22 about the final judgment that was then imminent, Mr. Snowden wrote, “The judgment from this censorship case is not enforceable while I am in exile, but I’ve never had that much money anyway.”

Katie Benner contributed reporting.

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