Bolton book in­quiry into han­dling of clas­si­fied ma­te­rial reaches grand jury

The Washington Post - - THE CORONAVIRU­S PANDEMIC - BY SPENCER S. HSU, DEVLIN BAR­RETT AND TOM HAM­BURGER spencer.hsu@wash­post.com devlin.bar­rett@wash­post.com tom.ham­burger@wash­post.com

A Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether for­mer Trump na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton crim­i­nally mis­han­dled clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion in a White House mem­oir pub­lished this June has reached a fed­eral grand jury, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

A grand jury is­sued sub­poe­nas for records, in­clud­ing from Si­mon & Schus­ter, the pub­lisher of Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Hap­pened,” the peo­ple said.

The book re­counts Bolton’s 17 months as Pres­i­dent Trump’s top na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial and paints a with­er­ing por­trait of Trump as an “er­ratic” and “stun­ningly un­in­formed” leader. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion un­suc­cess­fully sought to block the book’s re­lease in June, say­ing it con­tained clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion that wasn’t prop­erly re­viewed be­fore pub­li­ca­tion.

Bolton, a vet­eran diplo­mat and se­cu­rity ex­pert, has de­nied the book con­tains clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, cited his co­op­er­a­tion with a lengthy pre-pub­li­ca­tion re­view and added that he brought decades of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with se­cret ma­te­rial to the task.

In a state­ment, Bolton’s lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, said his team was aware of re­ports that sub­poe­nas had been is­sued.

“Am­bas­sador Bolton em­phat­i­cally re­jects any claim that he acted im­prop­erly, let alone crim­i­nally, in con­nec­tion with the pub­li­ca­tion of his book, and he will co­op­er­ate fully, as he has through­out, with any of­fi­cial in­quiry into his con­duct,” Cooper said.

A spokesman for Si­mon & Schus­ter de­clined to com­ment.

The grand jury case was opened af­ter a fed­eral judge re­jected the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s emer­gency re­quest to block the book’s June 23 pub­li­ca­tion, said the peo­ple, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to freely dis­cuss the mat­ter. The New York Times first re­ported on the grand jury sub­poe­nas.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment had re­quested a re­strain­ing or­der on the book, ar­gu­ing Bolton breached a con­tract with the govern­ment by not com­plet­ing a re­quired na­tional se­cu­rity re­view for clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

In a June 20 rul­ing, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lam­berth of the District of Columbia de­nied the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest, cit­ing the pub­lisher’s dec­la­ra­tion that more than 200,000 copies had al­ready shipped.

How­ever, in an opin­ion in the govern­ment law­suit seek­ing fi­nan­cial dam­ages, the judge said Bolton “ex­posed his coun­try to harm and him­self to civil (and po­ten­tially crim­i­nal) li­a­bil­ity” in fur­ther lit­i­ga­tion.

A Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment.

An­other per­son fa­mil­iar with the case said depart­ment of­fi­cials pur­sued the case as soon as de­tails of the book be­gan ap­pear­ing in pub­lic, but the ef­fort gained added mo­men­tum with Lam­berth’s writ­ten rul­ing.

Open­ing a grand jury case and is­su­ing sub­poe­nas is one of many early steps in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions in par­tic­u­lar can be lengthy. Most sub­mis­sions to the Jus­tice Depart­ment for leak cases are not for­warded to pros­e­cu­tors for in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and most of such in­ves­ti­ga­tions do not re­sult in charges, said one per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

In Bolton’s case, as­sess­ing his in­ten­tions, the govern­ment’s han­dling of the clas­si­fi­ca­tion re­view and the dis­pute’s po­lit­i­cal as­pects adds fur­ther com­plex­ity.

In pre-pub­li­ca­tion lit­i­ga­tion, the govern­ment dis­closed that na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Robert C. O’brien, whom Trump ap­pointed to suc­ceed Bolton, or­dered an ad­di­tional re­view of Bolton’s book af­ter a ca­reer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil staffer said he had com­pleted re­quired ed­its.

Army Gen. Paul M. Naka­sone, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, also de­clared in a court af­fi­davit that a limited por­tion of the draft man­u­script “im­pli­cates” in­for­ma­tion clas­si­fied at the high­est level. He said the “com­pro­mise of this in­for­ma­tion could re­sult in the per­ma­nent loss of a valu­able [sig­nal in­tel­li­gence] source and cause ir­repara­ble dam­age to the U.S. [sig­nal in­tel­li­gence] sys­tem.”

Bolton has al­leged that a ca­reer White House of­fi­cial, Ellen Knight, ef­fec­tively cleared his man­u­script in April be­fore Trump po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees tried to stall it through the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber. Cooper ar­gued that Trump ap­pointees politi­cized the clear­ance process in a man­ner that, if al­lowed to stand, would keep fu­ture of­fi­cials from speak­ing out when they leave govern­ment.

Among other dis­clo­sures, the Bolton mem­oir states that Trump asked Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to help him win re­elec­tion, as­serts Trump at­tempted to use mil­i­tary aid to pres­sure Ukraine on po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and says Trump ex­pressed will­ing­ness to halt or ob­struct crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions as per­sonal fa­vors to au­thor­i­tar­ian for­eign lead­ers.

Bolton in pro­mo­tional in­ter­views called Trump in­com­pe­tent and “un­fit for of­fice.”

Trump has re­sponded on Twit­ter say­ing he hoped Bolton would be in­ves­ti­gated. Trump said Bolton “broke the law” and should be in jail and have money seized “for dis­sem­i­nat­ing, for profit, highly Clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.” He also has called Bolton a “Wacko” and his mem­oir “a com­pi­la­tion of lies and made up sto­ries, all in­tended to make me look bad.”

In a June court hear­ing, Deputy As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral David M. Mor­rell ac­knowl­edged to the judge that he knew of no prece­dent in which high-level of­fi­cials in­ter­vened in clas­si­fi­ca­tion re­views.

O’brien tapped an­other new ap­pointee, Michael El­lis — a for­mer aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R- Calif.) — to con­duct the ad­di­tional re­view. El­lis, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s se­nior di­rec­tor for in­tel­li­gence, was not of­fi­cially trained on his clas­si­fi­ca­tion au­thor­ity un­til the day af­ter he com­pleted the Bolton man­u­script re­view, the govern­ment ac­knowl­edged.

How­ever ir­reg­u­lar the re-re­view, Mor­rell said, it was “en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate” given “an ex­tra­or­di­nary set of facts” — a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser de­tail­ing on­go­ing pol­icy mat­ters dur­ing the same ad­min­is­tra­tion in which he served.

Lam­berth said it ap­peared that Bolton failed to com­plete a pre­pub­li­ca­tion re­view and ob­tain writ­ten au­tho­riza­tion that the book con­tained no clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

In a Sept. 8 in­ter­view with The Washington Post, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr echoed that crit­i­cism and voiced dis­ap­proval of Bolton writ­ing about ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials while they are still in of­fice.

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