Sep 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Official says White House political appointees "commandeered" Bolton book review

The inside cover of a book that reads "The room where it happened"

John Bolton's book "The Room Where it Happened." Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

A former career official at the National Security Council claims her pre-publication review of former national security adviser John Bolton's explosive book on President Trump was "commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose," according to a letter from her lawyers filed in court on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The White House fought against the publication of Bolton's book for most of the year on the grounds that it contained harmful and "significant amounts of classified information."

  • According to Knight's lawyers, White House aides falsely asserted that details in the book were classified to keep it from being published, the New York Times reports.
  • Bolton has similarly alleged that the White House abused the prepublication review process to prevent the disclosure of embarrassing information about Trump.

What they're saying: "Ms. Knight asked the attorneys how it could be appropriate that a designedly apolitical process had been commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose," her lawyers write in the filing.

  • "The attorneys had no answer for her challenges, aside from a rote recitation of the government’s legal position that Ambassador Bolton had violated his contractual obligations by failing to wait for written clearance."
  • "However, when Ms. Knight speculated that this litigation was happening “because the most powerful man in the world said that it needed to happen,” several registered their agreement with that diagnosis of the situation."

"Over the course of five days and a total of 18 hours of meetings, a rotating cast of Justice Department and White House attorneys tried to persuade Ms. Knight to sign a declaration they wanted to file with their lawsuit against Ambassador Bolton," the filing continues.

  • Knight says that after she declined, voicing concerns about "the fairness and objectivity of the process," she received an automated email informing her that her detail at the NSC would be ending in 60 days.

The other side: "We disagree strongly with Ms. Knight’s assertion that additional review of the Bolton manuscript was somehow politically motivated," NSC spokesman John Ullyot said in an emailed statement.

  • "Multiple high-ranking officials charged with protecting the sort of classified information contained in the manuscript disagreed with Ms. Knight’s conclusion that Bolton’s manuscript contained no classified information," Ullyot said, adding that officials — including the director of the National Security Agency — "had access to more information" than Knight, an expert in government classification.
  • The White House declined to comment.

Catch up quick: Bolton alleges in his book that President Trump tied the freezing of $391 million in security aid to Ukraine to demands for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden — a core allegation in the impeachment of the president. Trump has strongly denied the claim.

  • Bolton also writes that Trump asked President Xi Jinping to increase Chinese agricultural purchases in order to improve his electoral prospects in farm states, and that Trump encouraged Xi to continue building detention camps for ethnic minorities.
  • Trump has denied both claims and said Bolton would have "strong criminal problems" if he moved forward with publishing the book.

What to watch: The Justice Department has reportedly convened a grand jury to criminally investigate whether Bolton disclosed classified information.

Read the letter.

Go deeper: Highlights from the excerpts of John Bolton's book

Go deeper