June 18, 2020

Bolton's Book

The Trump administration sued former national security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday to delay the publication of a book that the White House says contains classified information and that is expected to paint an unfavorable portrait of the president’s foreign policy decision-making. The civil lawsuit in Washington’s federal court follows warnings from President Donald Trump that Bolton could face a ‘criminal problem’ if he doesn’t halt plans to publish the book, which is scheduled for release next week.” AP News

Exclusive excerpts/early copies of the book have been obtained by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Both sides agree that the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice has little merit:

“The biggest problem is that the administration is seeking a prior restraint of speech before it occurs — not just damages for injuries allegedly caused by speech after the fact. The Supreme Court has never upheld a prior restraint on speech about matters of public concern, and in the Pentagon Papers case refused to enjoin publication of a trove of classified information concerning the Vietnam War…

“While the Justice Department’s complaint tries to evade the prior restraint label by asking the court to order Bolton to stop Simon & Schuster from publishing, this tortured approach cannot hide that a prior restraint is exactly what the administration is seeking: a court order stopping publication of a book. The chief government reviewer of the book concluded, after exhaustive analysis and editing, that the book contains no classified information. But even if it did, that would not be sufficient to justify a prior restraint. Ellis’s vague ‘concerns’ and Trump’s baseless assertion that every conversation with him is classified do not come close to justifying a prior restraint.”
Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., Washington Post

“[In the Pentagon Papers case] even though most of the justices agreed the information the newspaper wanted to publish was indeed classified, and that its publication likely would harm at least some U.S. interests, a 6-3 court majority still ruled that the First Amendment’s free-press guarantee forbade the government from banning its publication. Indeed, even centrists Byron White and Potter Stewart, the two justices in the majority who were the most respectful of the president’s desire to protect national security through control of information, wrote that it is especially important for press freedoms to be guaranteed in the same realm of national security…

“Specifically, because the courts and Congress have less constitutional power to restrain the executive in matters of defense and foreign affairs, they wrote, ‘In absence of governmental checks and balances, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in [these realms] may lie in an enlightened citizenry – in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government’… Unlike in the Pentagon Papers case, Bolton’s material isn’t obviously classified in the first place, and it is almost impossible to be of a nature anywhere near as damaging as the release of detailed military information at a time when the nation was embroiled in the hot Vietnam War.”
Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“It is a bitter pill to swallow to now be rooting for John Bolton, the man who opted for cashing in over testifying during the impeachment, when his revelations about Trump’s misdealings with foreign governments may have made a real difference. But here we are… Bolton’s book jacket tauntingly claims that it’s ‘game on,’ but the real game was played, and lost, in January. Bolton didn’t even bother to show up or take sides. It’s painful to concede that Bolton’s story is still worth hearing.”
Dahlia Lithwick and Scott Pilutik, Slate

“Showing a remarkable lack of self-awareness, [Bolton] criticizes House investigators for committing ‘impeachment malpractice’ by failing to discover these critical facts. But how, exactly, should investigators have discovered this information when the key witness — Bolton himself — played games and refused to talk?… By his own belated admission, Bolton directly witnessed not one but multiple acts that could have been cited in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. But Bolton did nothing about it while he held a powerful post in the Trump administration. And he stayed quiet and took cover when Congress and the nation pleaded with him to speak out during the impeachment process. Yet now that he has entered book promo mode, Bolton suddenly has summoned the spine that he was sorely missing back when it would have made an actual difference.”
Elie Honig, CNN

“According to Bolton, Trump was apparently surprised that the United Kingdom — one of America’s closest allies — had nuclear weapons during a meeting with former British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018. ‘Oh, are you a nuclear power?’ Trump said, according to Bolton. The UK was the third country to acquire the nuclear bomb, following the US and the Soviet Union…

“Bolton writes that Trump once asked his then-Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly if Finland was part of Russia. Maybe this is more forgivable when you consider Bolton also claims that at an August 2018 White House meeting, Trump ‘asserted that Venezuela was ‘really part of the United States’ and requested military options to invade the South American country and keep it under U.S. control,’ the Wall Street Journal writes. Trump also apparently said invading Venezuela would be ‘cool,’ according to the Washington Post’s account of Bolton’s book.”
Jen Kirby, Vox

“Some of these stories may be comical, but the deeply serious charge is that Trump was eager to make U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic, a servant of his own interests — many tied directly to his reelection — to a far greater extent than we knew… If true, Trump basically pleaded with Xi for help in winning reelection by buying up U.S. agricultural products… Trump explicitly tried to shape these dealings around his naked political needs as much as around what’s in the national interest, if not more so…

“All these new details reinforce the broader pattern in which Trump sees government as nothing more than a tool to advance his own interests, and they add specificity in China’s case. That should make it a whole lot harder for Trump to get away with claiming to [be] the tough-on-China candidate. Which is one of his central reelection arguments.”
Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“Bolton paints a picture of a president unconcerned with and often downright disdainful of human rights issues… [He] recounts several episodes in which Trump shrugged off China’s human rights abuses — and in one case even seemed to encourage perhaps the worst of them… There is always a balance to be struck in dealing with allies and others with whom the United States engages in trade and other business, but Trump has erred in a completely unique direction.”
Aaron Blake, Washington Post

From the Right

“As long as Bolton is providing a truthful account of his time as National Security Adviser and is complying with all legal requirements, I don’t have a problem with his book. The more Americans know about a president’s foreign policy decisionmaking, the better able we are to assess the president’s performance. There are limits to what we can know, given considerations of national security. But if those limits are observed, publication of a truthful account serves the public interest…

“[But] this brings me to what is perhaps the most interesting question in all of this: Why on earth did Trump select Bolton to be his National Security Adviser. He must have known that Bolton is opposed to key aspects of the Trump agenda. The decision to select Bolton is another in a long line of misguided (from Trump’s standpoint) personnel decisions. It may be the most inexplicable.”
Paul Mirengoff, Power Line Blog

“If Bolton's account is true, Trump has betrayed his platform and the people who elected him. But that's a big ‘if.’ In regards to Bolton's accusation about the Uighur concentration camps: Why would Xi openly admit this to the U.S.? China has denied reports about the Xinjiang region for years, and it strikes me as odd that Xi would suddenly be so open about it. Moreover, we should ask why Bolton is speaking up now. He had the chance to testify before the Senate during its impeachment trial of the president but refused to come forward… it’s difficult to see Bolton’s decision to wait as anything but an attempt to cash in on the media frenzy that has accompanied his allegations.”
Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

“The things Trump says and the things his administration does aren’t always the same. Russia’s a good example. Despite his interest in detente with Putin and the disgusting display at their joint press conference in Helsinki, he did in fact end up sending military aid to Russia’s enemies in Ukraine under pressure from his aides. Same with China and its concentration camps: The feds have blacklisted multiple Chinese companies for human-rights violations against Uighurs in Xinjiang, whatever Trump may think of them personally…

“This strange duality between words and deeds has been a recurring theme of his presidency. When you pair a nationalist isolationist president with a fondness for dictators with a Republican bureaucracy composed mainly of hawks, neoconservatives, and internationalists, weird policy contradictions can result. Look no further than the fact that Trump chose Bolton, one of the most [outspoken] hawks in the GOP, as his NSA… Maybe all sides can settle on the proposition that what his administration does publicly is more important than what Trump says privately.”
Allahpundit, Hot Air

“Bolton will be dismissed by Trump and his retinue as an disgruntled ex-employee. He is… But Bolton, a lifelong Republican and conservative stalwart, lands some powerful punches. Where he goes astray is in his contention that had [the Democrats] taken a more synoptic view of Trump’s misdeeds during impeachment… 'the impeachment outcome might well have been different.'… The trial, or at least the House investigation, might have ground on for a few extra weeks, but the result would have been the same. It was foreordained…

“Actually, the appearance of his memoir may now deliver more of a blow to Trump, coming as it does at a moment when the President is reeling from the trifecta of a pandemic, a collapsing economy and a fresh round of racial tumult. Attorney General William P. Barr is seeking to quash Bolton’s book, but his efforts are only drawing more attention to it. Coupled with the new book from his niece Mary, which is bound to air all sorts of dirty family linen and slated to appear in July, Trump can’t catch a break.”
Jacob Heilbrunn, Spectator USA

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