The Trump administration sought an emergency restraining order to stop the publication of a tell-all book by John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor.
The government claims the memoir, already distributed to booksellers across the country, contains classified information and that Bolton never got approval to have it published. It asked a judge in Washington for a preliminary injunction to block the sale of the book.
“Disclosure of the manuscript will damage the national security of the United States,” the government said in the complaint, filed Wednesday in federal court in Washington.
The administration sued Bolton on Tuesday for breach of contract, but it didn’t ask for a restraining order or an injunction at the time. Experts had suggested that such an order would be difficult to secure because the Supreme Court rejected a similar attempt by the Nixon administration to prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
The injunction should “instruct his publisher to take any and all available steps to retrieve and destroy any copies of the book that may be in the possession of any third party,” the government said in the filing.
The U.S. asked a judge to hold a hearing on its request on June 19, since the book is scheduled to be released on June 23.
Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher, said the injunction request will accomplish nothing.
“Tonight’s filing by the government is a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility,” the publisher said in a statement. “Hundreds of thousands of copies of John Bolton’s ‘The Room Where It Happened’ have already been distributed around the country and the world.”
The Washington Post, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have already published excerpts from the book that paint an unflattering picture of Trump.
The excerpts appear to have rattled the Trump administration. Trump signed a measure punishing Chinese officials for imprisoning more than one million Muslims on the same day the excerpts were published alleging the president encouraged Beijing to build internment camps to house them.
According to Bolton, Trump also tried to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy agricultural products, saying it would help him shore up support from farmers in the run-up to the presidential election.
In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Wednesday, Trump repeated his claim that “nobody has been tougher on Russia and China than I have.”
As for Bolton, Trump told Hannity, “He broke the law, very simple. As much as it’s going to be broken.”
Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, also lashed out at Bolton in a tweet on Wednesday, calling him a “weak dove of an author.”
All week, legal experts have dismissed the possibility that the Trump administration could persuade a judge to stop the publication of the book. In an interview before the latest filing, Theodore Boutrous, a First Amendment expert at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said any effort to obtain an injunction would be “dead in the water immediately.”
“The book is out there,” Boutrous said. “Prior restraint would have no effect.”
In a June 10 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bolton’s lawyer, Chuck Cooper, said the book went through “perhaps the most extensive and intensive prepublication review in NSC history.” Cooper accused the administration of using national security as a “pretext” to censor Bolton.
Cooper didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the injunction request.
The review process began about six months ago, when Bolton submitted a draft of the book to Ellen Knight, an official with National Security Council, according to the government’s lawsuit. After several rounds of edits, Knight concluded in April that the book no longer contained classified information, the complaint said. But in May, Michael Ellis, a senior NSC official, reopened the review process.
In declarations attached to the government’s injunction request, several high-ranking officials wrote that the current version of the book contains classified information that would damage national security if published. Paul Nakasone, the director of the National Security Agency, wrote that publication could result in “exceptionally grave damage.”
While the injunction request is a long shot, legal experts said, the testimony from government officials that the book still contains classified material could strengthen the government’s case in its original breach-of-contract lawsuit against Bolton, allowing it to seize his proceeds from the book even if it fails to obtain an injunction.
“It looks like everyone is about to lose,” said Mark Zaid, a lawyer in Washington who is an expert on the pre-publication review process.