WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Saturday that former national security adviser John Bolton can move forward in publishing his tell-all book despite efforts by the Trump administration to block the release because of concerns that classified information could be exposed.
The decision from US District Judge Royce Lamberth is a victory for Bolton in a court case that involved core First Amendment and national security concerns. But the judge also made clear his concerns that Bolton had “gambled with the national security of the United States” by taking it upon himself to publish his memoir without formal clearance from a White House that says it was still reviewing it for classified information.
“Defendant Bolton has gambled with the national security of the United States. He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability,’’ Lamberth wrote. “But these facts do not control the motion before the Court. The government has failed to establish that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm.”
From a practical perspective, the ruling clears the path for a broader election-year readership and distribution of a memoir, due out Tuesday, that paints an unflattering portrait of President Trump’s foreign policy decision-making during the turbulent year and a half that Bolton spent in the White House.
Soon after the ruling was released, Trump tweeted that Bolton “broke the law by releasing Classified Information (in massive amounts). He must pay a very big price for this, as others have before him. This should never to happen again!!!”
Bolton’s lawyer, Chuck Cooper, applauded Lamberth for denying the government’s attempt to “suppress” Bolton’s book. Publisher Simon & Schuster said the decision ‘‘vindicated the strong First Amendment protections against censorship and prior restraint of publication.’’
While declining to halt the release of the book, Lamberth did suggest that Bolton may have left himself open to potential criminal prosecution by publishing classified information and that the government may be successful in trying to prevent Bolton from keeping proceeds from the book.
Bolton’s team insisted that Bolton had spent months addressing White House concerns about classified information and that Bolton had been assured in late April by the official he was working with that the manuscript no longer contained any such material. Bolton’s lawyers said the Trump administration’s efforts to block the book were a pretext to censor him for an account that the White House found unfavorable.
The Justice Department sued this past week to block the book’s release and to demand that copies be retrieved. Officials said the book contained classified information and that Bolton had failed to complete a prepublication review process meant to ensure former government officials do not improperly disclose national security secrets in books they write. The administration submitted written statements from multiple officials attesting to the national security concerns of releasing the book.
The judge did not take issue with those concerns in his 10-page order. But with 200,000 copies of the book already distributed to booksellers across the country, attempting to block its release would be futile, Lamberth wrote. Major media organizations also obtained the book and published comprehensive accounts about it.
“In taking it upon himself to publish his book without securing final approval from national intelligence authorities, Bolton may indeed have caused the country irreparable harm. But in the Internet age, even a handful of copies in circulation could irrevocably destroy confidentiality,” Lamberth wrote.
Just one individual with a book in hand could publish its contents from a local coffee shop, he said.
“With hundreds of thousands of copies around the globe — many in newsrooms — the damage is done. There is no restoring the status quo,’’ the judge wrote.
Trump on Thursday called the book a “compilation of lies and made up stories” intended to make him look bad. He tweeted that Bolton was just trying to get even for being fired “like the sick puppy he is!”