John Bolton wrote a book. That seems kind of hard to remember now, but you may recall it as the one that came out just before the one from Donald Trump’s niece that confirms Trump as “the dumbest student” his school had ever seen, and before the book by Bob Woodward that explains how Trump knew about the deadliness of COVID-19, but decided to ignore it because he thought it would be a political “win.” But it was definitely after the 40-something other books (not kidding) about Trump. Somewhere in there.
Once upon a time—with that time being, unbelievably enough, the first month of this interminable year—what Bolton had to say might have mattered. With multiple witnesses at Trump’s impeachment having parts of the story about the effort to extort lies from the government of Ukraine, Bolton was uniquely positioned to fill in critical gaps. His testimony might have carried weight and had historical significance. Senate Republicans eventually voted that they didn’t want to hear from Bolton, or from anyone else, but well before that the former national security adviser made it clear that he wasn’t interested in talking anyway. He was saving it all for his book, where it wouldn’t do a damn thing for the nation but could earn him a tidy profit. Bolton, through his personal decisions, made himself into a minor footnote.
Even so, it seems that the effort to suppress his book went deeper than has been known, and included interfering with a routine investigation. Because thanks to men like Bolton, there are no rules.
Bolton’s book was originally slated to appear in March. That was then pushed back to May, and eventually slid into June. The biggest reason for the slide was that even though the manuscript had been sitting with the White House for months, the publisher could not get a signal that the book did not contain classified information. Such investigations are routine, and usually result in either a thumbs-up or a list of information that needs to be removed or edited before publication.
That didn’t happen in this case. As the book rolled on toward its final publication date, Trump accused Bolton of knowingly including classified information. The William Barr Justice Department trotted off to do what they always do: act as Trump’s personal attorneys in court. That attempt to block release of the book eventually failed—not least of all because Barr moved at a point where the book was literally on the shelves of bookstores nationwide. However, the judge did have harsh words for Bolton, suggesting that he could forfeit that much-desired profit and possibly face additional penalties for the release of confidential information.
But now it seems that it wasn’t just Barr who was responsible for putting the book on hold. Because other members of Trump’s team interfered with the routine security clearance review of the book, purposely holding the book up to diminish its impact. Meaning that even as they were taking Bolton to court for moving ahead without getting clearance, they were also making sure that he never got clearance.
Bolton’s attorneys made this claim in a letter to the court on Tuesday. As The New York Times reports, Bolton now claims that he wanted to release one portion of his book—a portion relevant to the impeachment trial—at that time. But White House aides blocked the security review even though Bolton didn’t believe that there was any classified material in the section.
At the heart of this appears to be a lawyer named Michael Ellis who was a former assistant to (of course) Rep. Devin Nunes. Despite no background or training in security reviews, Ellis directed the official in charge of the security review to put a freeze on Bolton’s manuscript while he conducted “his own review of the book.” It was Ellis who then claimed that the book was “replete” with classified information. Ellis’ review then became the basis of the Department of Justice claims against Bolton.
No one is crying for John Bolton. Or his mustache. And at this point, the idea that he might have released some information at the time of the impeachment except for some maneuver by the White House dodges the fact that Bolton could have stepped in front of every news camera in the country and told everyone what he knew. However, the attempt to stifle Bolton is just another example of the lengths that the Trump White House has gone to to silence dissent, and the willingness of every Republican involved to throw “normal process” in the waste bin.