STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The Trump administration is suing to block publication of a book. It's a memoir by John Bolton, who was the president's national security adviser and a witness to key events. He was present during the time of acts toward Ukraine for which the president was impeached. The Justice Department accuses Bolton of violating a nondisclosure agreement and failing to finish a process to review the manuscript for classified information. Now, what could be classified in this book? The president has offered a sweeping definition.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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 that he would have criminal problems.
INSKEEP: Joining us now to discuss this is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Good morning.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: I guess first we should note this is not a criminal prosecution - it's a lawsuit. What's the administration's case?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, the suit alleges that Bolton's more than 500-page manuscript, as you noted, was, quote, "rife with classified information which he proposed to release to the world." Prosecutors accuse Bolton of backing out of the vetting process that was a condition for his employment at the White House. People have been waiting on this book for months, ever since President Trump's impeachment trial, when it appeared the potential book would shed light on allegations the president sought to withhold military aid from Ukraine in exchange for a political favor.
The book, titled "The Room Where It Happened," is due to be released next week. And according to a press release, Bolton writes, I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn't driven by re-election calculations.
INSKEEP: I guess we should put this lawsuit in the context of, well, American law and history. It's an attempt at prior restraint, withholding publication of something. The Supreme Court has already ruled decades ago that it frowns on this - not that it can never happen - but it frowns on this. So how's Bolton responding?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, Bolton's attorneys responded to NPR last night. They said they're reviewing the government's complaint and they will respond in due course. His lawyer has previously denied the administration's complaints. They say it has gone through all the proper vetting procedures and that the former national security has already made a bunch of changes to the book to accommodate concerns about national security. I spoke with John Gans who wrote a book on the NSC called "White House Warriors." He said Trump is doing Bolton a favor and simply drumming up interest and making him look like a hero.
JOHN GANS: The president, I think, could've very easily just said - oh, this is a cash grab; this is sour grapes. He's actually, like, now saying it's full of juicy details and full of (laughter) credible information.
ORDOÑEZ: Remember that people were very angry with Bolton for not speaking out during the impeachment hearings or testifying before Congress and to do something to speak out when it really would've had a greater impact.
INSKEEP: What's the publisher supposed to do now? The book's already printed.
ORDOÑEZ: No, I think it's a great point. I mean, the publisher released a statement that this is another attempt to try and stop publication of a book that the president seems unflattering. And frankly, it's going to be tough to stop that because, you know, this is a city that leaks and the information is already out there.
INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.