WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge was puzzled Friday by the Trump administration urging him to block former national security adviser John Bolton’s manuscript from hitting the shelves when the explosive book is already in the hands of the public.
The Justice Department is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” from being officially released on June 23, claiming it contains classified information that will harm national security. The White House has accused Bolton of violating non-disclosure agreements, claiming he sent the book to print without authorization from the National Security Council.
But the book, worth an estimated $2 million, is already available for pre-order, and members of the news media in possession of a copy have widely reported on its damning accounts of President Donald Trump.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth questioned what he can do to remedy the dispute given, as the Ronald Reagan appointee said, the horse seems to be out of the barn.
“It certainly looks difficult to me about what I can do about those books all over the country,” Lamberth said.
But Justice Department attorney David Morrell argued that an order from the judge would force Bolton to work with his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to stem the flow of classified information.
“This is a problem of his own making and the onus is on him to figure out how to solve it,” Morrell said.
Meanwhile, Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, said it is utterly beyond his client’s ability to retrieve and destroy hundreds of thousands of copies of the book.
The impossible demand from the government, Cooper claimed, leaves the court with no jurisdiction to grant the temporary restraining order.
“The idea that the horse is out of the barn is an understatement here,” the attorney said.
But the Justice Department said the former top-level adviser has taken unprecedented action.
Calling the defendant’s arguments “hogwash,” Morrell said the burden is on the author to submit a manuscript for review and to seek judicial review if they are dissatisfied with the process.
“In this case, it is not his role or entitlement to decide when the process is done,” Morrell said. “That belongs to the government.”
When asked by Lamberth if the president had recently instructed national security officials to classify any material in Bolton’s book, the Justice Department told the judge that it was not aware of such an order.
Recognizing that Bolton cannot walk away without written authorization after participating for four months in the prepublication review process, the judge also asked: “Well assuming the book is already out there, what is it I’d be doing?”
Assuring the judge that the Justice Department was not making an all-or-nothing proposition, Morrell said an order for Bolton to reel in the book’s release could also stop its distribution by audiobook and electronic copy.
Morrell urged the judge to grant the government’s request and warned that failure to do so will allow any disgruntled former federal employee in possession of classified information to evade the review process.
“One should not allow Mr. Bolton to just swing the barnyard door open and say, ‘You know what, you have no jurisdiction as a result of my bad conduct,’” the Justice Department attorney said.