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Donald Trump wins with John Bolton book lawsuit

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Donald Trump may not be having much luck with his federal judges, but he scored one in his battle with John Bolton. That lawsuit just got the greenlight to continue forward.

Trump’s Justice Department wants to get hold of that $2 million advance that former national security adviser John Bolton received for his tell-all book, “The Room Where It Happened.” On Thursday, a judge chose not to dismiss the federal lawsuit against Bolton which also wants to take any future proceeds from the recently published book.

The Justice Department alleges that Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened” contains classified information, and the government sued in June to try to prevent the release. Though the book was published, a suit accusing Bolton of breaking contracts with the government by disclosing classified information and by failing to complete a required prepublication review can proceed, U.S District Judge Royce Lamberth said in a 27-page opinion.

The Justice Department, the judge wrote, “plausibly pleads that Bolton breached those obligations.” Simply put, he feels the government had a valid legal argument for going after Bolton.

“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.”

Charles Cooper, Bolton’s lawyer, said in an email that the ruling, “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.”

The book, which details Bolton’s 17 months as Trump’s national security adviser, contains descriptions of conversations with foreign leaders that could be seen as politically damaging to the president. Those include accounts that Trump tied providing military aid to Ukraine to that country’s willingness to conduct investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter, and that Trump asked China’s President Xi Jinping to help his reelection prospects.

Lamberth in June denied the government’s request for an injunction to block the book from being published, given that thousands of copies had already been distributed. But in the same order, he also scolded Bolton for moving ahead with the book’s publication without waiting for formal, written authorization that the book had been cleared.

His order clears the way for the Justice Department’s suit to move forward, including the government’s efforts to seize proceeds from the book. The judge said the government has reasonably shown that Bolton disclosed classified information without first confirming that it was unclassified.

“Even if Bolton operated out of an abundance of caution in submitting his manuscript for review, the very existence of his caution leads to a fair inference that Bolton was less than certain as to the status of the manuscript,” Lamberth wrote. “And the allegation that classified material was actually present in the manuscript makes it more likely that Bolton harbored doubts as to whether everything in his manuscript was unclassified.”

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Bolton’s lawyers have maintained that he worked for months with a White House career official, Ellen Knight, to ensure that the manuscript was carefully screened for classified information, with Knight concluding that review in April by determining that the book was now free of such material. But White House officials later conducted a second review that they said identified classified information still in the book.

The glaring issue is that 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.

The case took a notable turn last week when a lawyer for Knight submitted a statement that said that after Knight had advised National Security Council lawyers that she intended to clear the book for publication, she was told to take no action and to tell Bolton that the process was “ongoing.”

Weeks later, she learned that a White House official who she says had no previous classification experience had been instructed to conduct a second review of the manuscript. That official, Michael Ellis, flagged hundreds of passages that he believed were still classified. Knight disagreed with that conclusion and considered the re-review to be “fundamentally flawed,” according to the filing.

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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