A federal judge has denied a Trump administration request to block former national security adviser John Bolton's book from being published.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in an order released Saturday that "while Bolton's unilateral conduct raises grave national security concerns, the government has not established that an injunction is an appropriate remedy."
The judge noted that the Justice Department's push for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction came after the book was printed and shipped across the country ahead of its scheduled release on Tuesday.
Lamberth, who was appointed to the federal district court in Washington, D.C., by former President Reagan, seemed to suggest that he would have granted the injunction had Bolton and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, not already begun distributing the book.
The judge questioned Bolton's actions in pushing ahead with the book's publication without receiving written official notice concluding that his manuscript was clear of sensitive or classified information. However, the judge said that it was too late to issue a restraining order that would temporarily halt the release, given that advance copies are already in the hands of journalists and the book's contents have been widely reported.
"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," Lamberth wrote. "But in the Internet age, even a handful of copies in circulation could irrevocably destroy confidentiality. A single dedicated individual with a book in hand could publish its contents far and wide from his local coffee shop. With hundreds of thousands of copies around the globe—many in newsrooms—the damage is done. There is no restoring the status quo."
Charles Cooper, Bolton's attorney, hailed the decision to allow the publication to move forward but pushed back on Lamberth's conclusions.
"We welcome today’s decision by the Court denying the Government’s attempt to suppress Ambassador Bolton’s book," Cooper said in a statement. "We respectfully take issue, however, with the Court’s preliminary conclusion at this early stage of the case that Ambassador Bolton did not comply fully with his contractual prepublication obligation to the Government, and the case will now proceed to development of the full record on that issue. The full story of these events has yet to be told—but it will be."
The Justice Department had filed its lawsuit Tuesday against Bolton seeking to prevent his highly anticipated memoir from becoming public.
Bolton, who served as Trump's third national security adviser between April 2018 and September 2019, offers one of the most detailed accounts to date of the Trump White House in the book, titled "The Room Where It Happened."
The hawkish former top security aide describes an atmosphere where aides are pitted against one another and top administration officials bad-mouth the president in private.
It also includes a number of allegations surrounding Trump's foreign policy, including claiming he sought the help of China's president for his reelection.
The administration has asserted that the 500-plus-page book includes classified information, something Bolton's lawyer has rejected.
President Trump broadly pushed back on Bolton during an interview with Fox News's Sean Hannity earlier this week, calling the former aide "a washed-up guy" and claiming "he broke the law."
Trump also broadly defended his administration's policies, asserting that "nobody has been tougher on Russia or China than I have.”
The decision on Saturday could prove to be a pyrrhic victory for Bolton.
Lamberth said in his decision that the Trump administration's lawsuit is likely to succeed, which is usually a major factor that judges consider in deciding whether to grant a preliminary injunction. But in this case, Lamberth said, such an injunction would not remedy any potential damage caused by Bolton's book.
Bolton now faces the risk of losing out on royalties from the tell-all if the Trump administration wins in court. There's also the possibility that Trump's former national security adviser is vulnerable to criminal charges for disclosing classified information.
The Department of Justice is accusing Bolton of violating the nondisclosure agreements he signed when he joined the White House that required him to submit any books he planned to write for a prepublication review.
“Bolton broke the law and has been called out and rebuked for so doing, with a really big price to pay," Trump asserted in a tweet on Saturday celebrating the ruling. "He likes dropping bombs on people, and killing them. Now he will have bombs dropped on him!”
While an official had told Bolton in April following a months-long editing process that she believed the manuscript no longer contained any classified material, the National Security Council (NSC) never sent a letter confirming that the review had been completed, and Bolton later found out that a more senior official was conducting a new review.
The more senior official, Michael Ellis, the White House's senior director of intelligence, said that he had discovered several passages containing classified information, which the Trump administration contends will harm U.S. national security.
Bolton decided to proceed with the book's release before he received official approval from the NSC.
"This was Bolton’s bet: If he is right and the book does not contain classified information, he keeps the upside mentioned above; but if he is wrong, he stands to lose his profits from the book deal, exposes himself to criminal liability, and imperils national security," Lamberth wrote on Saturday. "Bolton was wrong."
Trump and the White House hailed the judge's ruling as vindication that the former aide had potentially jeopardized national security by disclosing sensitive information.
"The court denied the Government’s request for an injunction solely because Bolton’s wrongful conduct—carried out in secret—had already ensured that the book was so widely disseminated that the court believed it could no longer grant an effective remedy," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.