The Justice Department is looking into whether former national security adviser John Bolton unlawfully disclosed classified information in his memoir, The New York Times reports.
According to three people familiar with the probe, the department opened the case up after it failed to stop the book from being published this summer.
Bolton discusses the 17 months he spent working in the Trump administration in his book “The Room Where It Happened,” which was published by Simon & Schuster.
The Justice Department convened a grand jury and subpoenaed communications records from the publisher, the newspaper reports.
The Trump administration tried to prevent the book from being published. It sued Bolton of moving ahead with the book’s release without receiving final notice that a prepublication review to remove any classified information was complete. The director of national intelligence referred the matter to the Justice Department last month, two of the people told The Times.
Bolton has denied publishing any classified information. The book details parts of the Ukraine events that led to Trump’s impeachment and claims Trump asked China for help in winning reelection.
Two officials familiar with the criminal inquiry told the newspaper that lawyers for the National Security Council and the Justice Department were concerned about opening a case because of Trump’s comments about Bolton.
Trump has tweeted that Bolton “broke the law” and “should be in jail, money seized, for disseminating, for profit, highly Classified information.”
But others involved in the case said a probe is warranted because a federal judge suggested Bolton may have broken the law earlier this summer.
Bolton did agree to let national security officials review any book he might eventually write before publication in order to make sure that it contained no classified information.
The department alleged Bolton gave Simon & Schuster permission to publish his book before he had official signoff that his prepublication review was complete. It also sued to halt publication, but a judge said it was too late to prevent the book from getting out. The suit was filed a week before the book was scheduled to be released to stores.
“With hundreds of thousands of copies around the globe — many in newsrooms — the damage is done,” wrote Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia.
But Lamberth also noted that Bolton could be criminally prosecuted if he allowed the book to be published before he had the final approval from the government.
“Bolton has gambled with the national security of the United States,” Judge Lamberth wrote. “He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability. But these facts do not control the motion before the court.”
After reviewing some classified information, the judge said he was “persuaded that defendant Bolton likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations.”
But Bolton’s lawyer Charles Cooper objected to the judge’s position that Bolton didn’t comply with the government’s requirements. He argued the administration slowed down the process in order to block Bolton from publishing information about Trump, the newspaper reports.
Bolton also faces a civil lawsuit that could force him to give any book proceeds to the government for breaching the prepublication review agreement.