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Judge rejects John Bolton's effort to dismiss government lawsuit over book

The ruling is a blow for Bolton, although it's not a final determination of the merits of the case.
Image: John Bolton
John Bolton in Durham, N.C., on Feb. 17, 2020.Melissa Sue Gerrits / Getty Images file

A federal judge on Thursday denied former Trump national security adviser John Bolton's effort to get the government's lawsuit over his book dismissed.

That allows the Justice Department to proceed in its effort to seize his profits from the book, "The Room Where it Happened," a harsh condemnation of the Trump White House and its handling of foreign policy.

Federal District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said the government "alleges sufficient facts to support its claim" that Bolton violated his obligations to get written permission to proceed with publication after the book was reviewed to remove any classified information. The judge found the government has a sufficiently strong case to move on to the next step.

Justice Department lawyers have asked the judge to rule for them on summary judgment, without a trial. The judge said he will rule on that soon.

The government filed its lawsuit in June, arguing that Bolton was required — because he had a top-level security clearance during his government service — to wait until the White House finished reviewing the book for classified information. Instead, the suit said, he and his publisher pushed ahead and scheduled the book's release before the process was finished.

Bolton said he was required only to wait for a White House official's confirmation that the book was free of classified information, which he received in April. The White House then launched another review, by a more senior official, which Bolton's lawyer described in court as "a transparent effort to prevent Ambassador Bolton from revealing embarrassing facts about the president's conduct in office."

The lawsuit said Bolton was required to get written permission if the book contained a type of classified material known as SCI — sensitive compartmented information. The government at first did not make such a claim, but it filed a revised lawsuit a few days later that contained the allegation.

Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, said any such conclusion was based on a decision to classify some information at that higher level after the book was submitted for review. Bolton was required to seek review only if he believed the book contained classified information and only regarding information properly classified at that time, Cooper said.

Lamberth said Thursday that the agreements Bolton signed when he assumed his government job required him to submit the book for prepublication review and to wait until the review process was completed. What's more, he said, "the government sufficiently alleges that Bolton disclosed information without confirming that the information was unclassified."

While the ruling is not a final determination of the merits of the case, it is a blow for Bolton. The judge denied all the reasons he offered for dismissing the lawsuit.

Separately, the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into Bolton's actions. But they were not the subject of Thursday's court ruling.