Fearing revelations, Trump sends shot across Bolton's bow

Trump has made plenty of legal threats before failing to follow through. With John Bolton, the situation appears to be ... different.
Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-IMPEACHMENT-BOLTON
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 9, 2018, US President Donald Trump speaks alongside National Security Adviser John Bolton (L) during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC. - Bolton alleges in a book draft that US President Donald Trump wanted to freeze Ukrainian military aid until Kiev investigated his political rivals, The New York Times reported on January 26, 2020. Democrats quickly seized on the report to press demands that Bolton and other key people in the Trump administration be called testify in Trump's impeachment trial. Citing Bolton's unpublished manuscript, The Times wrote that Trump told Bolton he wanted to keep frozen $391 million in aid to Ukraine, until Kiev officials helped with a probe into his Democratic rival Joe Biden. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)SAUL LOEB / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

During Donald Trump's impeachment crisis, former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared to have relevant information about the allegations surrounding the president. He did not, however, testify.

That said, the far-right hawk did write a book, which according to his publisher, will pull back the curtain on a chaotic White House, led by a reckless president who's guilty of wrongdoing the public doesn't yet know about.

It seems fair to say Bolton has gotten the attention of his former boss. As USA Today reported:

President Donald Trump called his one-time national security advisor John Bolton's forthcoming book "highly inappropriate" on Monday and said it would be a "criminal problem" if the book published. The president, who has also said he hasn't read the memoir, told reporters in the cabinet room, "If he wrote a book, I can't imagine that he can because that's highly classified information."

There are a handful of relevant angles to this. For example, Trump told reporters yesterday, "I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified. So that would mean that if he wrote a book and if the book gets out, he's broken the law and I would think he would have criminal problems. I hope so."

The idea that "every conversation" with a president can be "considered" highly classified is absurd. If Trump isn't aware of that, some lawyers probably ought to bring him up to speed.

That said, the Republican did raise the prospect of Bolton facing "criminal liability," turning the matter over to Attorney General Bill Barr. In the United States, we're not supposed to have a legal system in which the president sics his A.G. on those he considers politically inconvenient, but in the Trump era, this dynamic has become alarmingly routine.

Of course, even if criminal proceedings never materialize, the president's lawyers may file a civil case against Bolton, trying to block the release of the book that's scheduled to come out next week. Yes, Trump and his team have made many related threats before, but this lawsuit appears to be a distinct possibility.

Will it succeed in blocking the book's release? There are legal experts who can speak to this with far more authority than I can -- my colleague Lisa Rubin explored the issue in detail in January -- though it's worth emphasizing that Bolton's lawyer has said his client already worked with classification specialists at the White House National Security Council to ensure that sensitive information would not be disclosed through the book.

Finally, it's also likely we'll see Trump spend some time going after Bolton personally. "Maybe he's not telling the truth," the president said of Bolton's upcoming book. "He's been known not to tell the truth -- a lot."

Of course, that raises an awkward question: if Bolton is as unreliable as the president claims, why exactly did Trump hire him to be the White House national security advisor?