Following revelations, Trump's conflict with Bolton reaches new level

Bolton has described Trump as a corrupt and ignorant president, guilty of all kinds of official misdeeds. So what happens now?
Image: President Donald Trump speaks alongside National Security Adviser John Bolton during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
President Donald Trump speaks alongside National Security Adviser John Bolton during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

The headline on David Ignatius' new column on John Bolton's book makes an important point: the former White House national security advisor's book "is full of startling revelations he should have told us sooner."

Quite right. The far-right hawk had a front-row seat to Donald Trump's systemic wrongdoing, and he had an opportunity to help expose the president's corruption in official proceedings -- including Trump's impeachment trial. Bolton chose not to.

That said, the significance of the revelations is hard to ignore.

Bolton's much-anticipated, 494-page book paints in copious detail a devastating portrait of an erratic, ill-informed president who sees the Justice Department as his personal tool, prioritizes his own interests above all else, including the country, and myopically processes every decision through the lens of how it might affect his re-election chances.

While I have not yet read the book, the latest reporting describes a rather brutal indictment of a president who is corrupt, ignorant, mocked by his own team, hostile toward the rule of law, and guilty of all kinds of official misdeeds -- including trying to get both Ukraine and China to help with his re-election campaign.

Bolton is dismissive of Congress' impeachment of Trump, not because it was unwarranted but because it was incomplete: lawmakers weren't fully aware of the president's other transgressions that were every bit as serious. (The book makes it explicitly clear that Trump was absolutely guilty of the Ukrainian extortion scheme for which he was impeached.)

Given the explosive nature of Bolton's claims, it seems like a safe bet that quite a few people will buy his book. After all, it's extremely unusual for a top former White House official to effectively accuse a sitting president of being a corrupt criminal in print.

The Trump administration, however, hopes to block the book from reaching the public. As NBC News reported overnight, the Justice Department late yesterday asked a federal court to stop Bolton's book from being released in five days.

The Justice Department asked for an emergency hearing on Friday, given that the book's publication date is Tuesday. It asked the court to hold Bolton "to the legal obligations he freely assumed as a condition of receiving access to classified information and prevent harm to national security that will result if his manuscript is published to the world."

Note, there are now two separate legal filings. On Tuesday, the administration sued Bolton, claiming he hadn't completed the proper review process before proceeding with the publication process. I made the case yesterday that it seemed like a half-hearted effort: if Team Trump were seriously trying to derail the publication of the book, it would've sought a temporary restraining order to block the book's release.

A day later, the administration did, in fact, ask a judge for a temporary restraining order, escalating matters considerably.

That, in and of itself, is a rather extraordinary development. In the United States, federal law enforcement does not often go to court to block book publications. The fact that the text in question was written by a former White House official makes the circumstances that much more remarkable.

Complicating matters, many people have already obtained and read the book, and details of the text have already reached the public. It's a little late to try to get the toothpaste back in the tube.

With all of this in mind, legal experts appear skeptical that the lawsuit will succeed. "As is often the case with the Trump administration, this motion is all hat and no cattle," the ACLU's Ben Wizner told the New York Times. "The audience for this filing is not the court; it's the president."

The Justice Department has asked Judge Royce Lamberth for a hearing tomorrow. Watch this space.