For­mer staffer: White House politi­cized Bolton book re­view

Ac­tions al­legedly aimed to block pub­li­ca­tion


WASH­ING­TON — Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials re­peat­edly ex­erted political pres­sure in an ef­fort to block the re­lease of for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton’s tell-all book, a ca­reer gov­ern­ment records pro­fes­sional said in a court fil­ing Wed­nes­day.

Af­ter Bolton sub­mit­ted his book for pre­pub­li­ca­tion re­view last last year, it was Ellen Knight’s job at the White House to make sure it did not con­tain clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion that could pos­si­bly threaten U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity.

For the first time, Knight re­counted the month­s­long pre­pub­li­ca­tion re­view process that she says was re­plete with de­lay tac­tics, le­gal ma­neu­ver­ings and a shadow re­view by a political ap­pointee who had no ex­pe­ri­ence in that area. She con­tends the ac­tions were aimed at dis­cred­it­ing her work and block­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Hap­pened.”

Bolton’s book, of­fer­ing a be­hind-thescenes ac­count of Trump’s in­ter­ac­tions with for­eign lead­ers, went on sale ear­lier this year. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion main­tains that it con­tains clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment has launched a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into its re­lease.

Ear­lier, the Jus­tice Depart­ment sued to block the re­lease of the book. A fed­eral judge re­jected the suit, partly be­cause hun­dreds of thou­sands of copies had al­ready been dis­trib­uted. But the judge ex­pressed con­cern that Bolton pub­lished the book be­fore re­ceiv­ing a for­mal clear­ance let­ter, which Knight said was blocked by the White House.

Knight asked her at­tor­ney, Ken Wain­stein, to write a let­ter for the court to give her first­hand ac­count of the con­tro­ver­sial re­view.

“As a ca­reer pro­fes­sional in the field of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion man­age­ment, Ms. Knight is very con­cerned about the politi­ciza­tion — or even the per­ceived politi­ciza­tion — of the pre­pub­li­ca­tion re­view process,” Wain­stein wrote.

If au­thors lose con­fi­dence in the process, they might try to pub­lish with­out sub­mit­ting manuscript­s for re­view, which “could re­sult in unchecked dis­clo­sures of sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion and the po­ten­tial for se­ri­ous dam­age to our na­tional se­cu­rity,” he wrote.

Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman Kerri Ku­pec said Knight’s court fil­ing con­firms that Bolton did not re­ceive the re­quired writ­ten, pre­pub­li­ca­tion ap­proval be­fore pub­lish­ing.

“Mr. Bolton chose to pub­lish a man­u­script that four se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have stated, un­der penalty of per­jury, con­tains clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion,” she said in a state­ment.

Knight was de­tailed from the Na­tional Ar­chives and Records Ad­min­is­tra­tion to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil from Au­gust 2018 to Au­gust 2020. Dur­ing that time, she and her staff han­dled more than 135 pre­pub­li­ca­tion re­view re­quests, perus­ing more than 10,000 pages of manuscript­s.

Knight and her col­league spent hun­dreds of hours over four months re­view­ing and re­search­ing in­for­ma­tion found in Bolton’s more than 500page man­u­script. Knight met with Bolton for a to­tal of 14 hours and spoke on the phone with him 10 times, in­clud­ing two calls that lasted sev­eral hours, the fil­ing said.

Af­ter com­plet­ing her re­view in late April, she gave the man­u­script to her su­pe­rior, who con­firmed that all sen­si­tive or clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion she had de­ter­mined was in the orig­i­nal man­u­script had been re­moved.

Knight said that when she ad­vised NSC lawyers on April 28 that she was pre­pared to clear the man­u­script for pub­li­ca­tion, she was told to take no ac­tion. Knight said NSC lawyers told her to tell Bolton that the process was “on­go­ing.” She says she was once told that COVID-19 is­sues were de­lay­ing the process.

When Bolton’s lawyer asked the White House to “pri­or­i­tize the Ukraine chap­ter” for pre­pub­li­ca­tion re­view to make it pub­licly avail­able dur­ing Trump’s im­peach­ment trial, then­deputy NSC le­gal ad­viser Michael El­lis in­structed her to “tem­po­rar­ily with­hold any re­sponse,” she said.

Knight said the NSC lawyers reg­u­larly in­structed her “not to use email in her com­mu­ni­ca­tions” with them to dis­cuss her in­ter­ac­tions with Bolton or his lawyer “and in­stead use the tele­phone.”

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