- Oct 20, 2019
- Reaction score
Yesterday, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton from releasing his tell-all book, The Room Where It Happened (my apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda for even typing that title out). Here is the lawsuit:
The crux of the DOJ's complaint is that by distributing the book now, Bolton is side-stepping a review process by the National Security Council, which was conducting a pre-publication review of the book to protect against disclosure of classified information Bolton possesses as a result of his employment with the government. In addition to the injunction, the lawsuit seeks to have the court declare that Bolton is in violation of agreements he entered into with the government as a condition of his employment.
The Barr-Bolton dispute touches on some interesting issues.
First, unless you've been living under a rock, you'll recall Bolton's connection to the dramatic conclusion to the Trump-Ukraine impeachment saga. During the Senate trial, Bolton expressed willingness to testify to some of the issues raised in the House investigation. There was debate on this board about whether Bolton would specifically connect Trump's withholding of aid to investigations helpful to his re-election:
Bolton's book is expected to shed light on information related to the Trump-Ukraine scandal, which is potentially damaging to Trump and the Senate Republicans who voted against calling witnesses in the trial, including Bolton.
By Laura BassettAfter months of internal arguing among Democrats over whether to impeach President Donald Trump, the dam is finally breaking in favor of trying to remove him from office. The Washington Post reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would announce a formal impeachment inquiry...
Bolton's book is also expected to touch on Trump's relationship with Turkey's Recep Erdogan:
As noted in the twitter thread in my linked post, Bill Barr has tried to use the DOJ to prevent prosecutors from the Southern District of New York from indicting the Turkish Halkbank, which according to Bolton's book, was part of a personal favor from Trump to Erdogan. And as I noted in my prior post, Trump's efforts with Erdogan bring to mind the United States' sudden withdrawal from our position alongside the Kurds in Syria after a Trump-Erdogan phone call. We don't yet fully understand what is behind this Trump-Erdogan courtship, but we do know from the recently revealed Roger Stone search warrants that there's been an investigation into Turkey's involvement in Trump's 2016 election; we also know that Trump has properties in Istanbul, and that Trump's national security transition officials Michael Flynn and Bijan Kian were secretly lobbying on behalf of Turkey during the election.
This Trump-Turkey story won’t go away. The 2nd tweet in the thread has a crazy quote from the CNN article:There’s something strange going on with Trump and Erdogan. Back in December of 2018, Trump suddenly unilaterally announces our plans for an immediate withdrawal from Syria after a phone...
Bolton's perspective on Trump's opaque foreign policy maneuvers is certain to raise even more questions about what motivates Trump. Reportedly, Bolton's book claims that Trump's decisions are strictly motivated by his reelection chances:
The former national security adviser also argues in a new memoir that Trump took a series of actions that might warrant impeachment.
This could gain increased significance as we approach November 2020, especially if we see the Trump administration making foreign policy decisions favoring the countries alleged to have offered election assistance in 2016, including Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey. Or if we see favorable policies directed at the countries who we believe support his reelection in 2020, which reportedly includes China, and almost certainly includes the aforementioned countries. Is our foreign policy being "sold" to help increase Trump's reelection chances? That is, after all, what impeachment was about: Trump withholding aid to Ukraine, an ally, to the benefit of Russia, an enemy, to improve his reelection odds. If the thesis of Bolton's book is that Trump's modus operandi is to make foreign policy decisions to benefit himself above anything else, that thesis appears to be corroborated by a great deal of public information.
More broadly, the Barr-Bolton dispute demonstrates the consequences of the damage that Barr and Trump have already done to the rule of law. Anyone who recognizes the ways Bill Barr uses the DOJ as cover to act as Trump's personal attorney is likely to think Barr's lawsuit is simply doing more of the same by claiming the NSC needs "more time" to review Bolton's book for classified information. Trump and his associates have time and again used dubious claims of "executive privilege" and "absolute immunity" to avoid dissemination of information that is politically harmful to him -- why wouldn't they claim Bolton's book risks publishing classified information in order to delay or prevent its release?
To be clear, when a former high-level official wants to disclose potentially sensitive information, especially for strictly personal gain, I expect that most of us want the government to have some input as to the dissemination of any material potentially considered as classified. But we also want to be confident that the government is being honest about the review process, and what it considers to be classified. There is simply no reason for anyone to believe Trump or Barr when it comes to the dissemination of Bolton's book. So Barr's use of the DOJ as nothing more than a political weapon has caused irreparable damage to the institution, and therefore, to the rule of law, because it has lost credibility in the eyes of the American public -- at least, to an increasing majority of us.
My guess is that the next few weeks will resemble prior sagas involving former members of Trump's inner-circle who decide to flip on Trump. The anti-Trump crowd will favor Bolton's credibility over Trump/Barr's, which I believe more likely relate to the general distrust of Trump/Barr versus any particularly favorable views about Bolton. The pro-Trump crowd will favor Trump/Barr's credibility, and will point out the irony of leftists believing Bolton -- someone the left historically despises. And I suspect that a majority of people would agree that Bolton looks slimy for promoting his book instead of speaking up at a crucial moment in history.
It is hard to analyze the Barr suit from a legal standpoint, because at the end of the day, the framing of the case boils down to credibility. If you believe Trump/Barr, then you likely view the DOJ suit against Bolton as an important attempt to protect our national security interests. If you don't believe Trump/Barr and view the suit as a pretext for political cover, then you likely think it's a "prior restraint" in violation of the 1st Amendment.
With all of that in mind, I don't give the DOJ suit much of a chance to stop the Bolton book from coming out, and even if there's a delay, I expect it will be out before the election. I hope it comes out, assuming I am correct that the "classified information" dispute is just another Bill Barr Special. I won't be buying it either way, but I certainly want to know what else Trump and Barr so badly don't want us to know about.