The train has done left the station on that score, apparently, but John Bolton’s legal team didn’t know that at the time. The NSC letter informed Bolton and his publisher on January 23rd that his book contained classified information (including TOP SECRET) that would have to be removed for publication approval. That prompted an immediate reply from Bolton’s legal team on January 24th, although both communications are only now emerging in public. Not only did Charles Cooper reject their finding that the book contains classified information, he demanded that the NSC immediately conclude its review so Bolton can make an appearance in the Senate trial of Donald Trump.
An attorney for John Bolton has pushed back against the White House’s assessment that his book manuscript contains classified material and asked for an expedited review of a chapter about Ukraine in case the former national security adviser is called to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.
The Jan. 24 email to the White House from Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, was in response to a letter from the National Security Council a day earlier warning that the manuscript contained “significant amounts” of classified material that could not be disclosed publicly.
“We do not believe that any of that information could reasonably be considered classified,” Cooper responded, according to a copy of the email he released Wednesday.
He added that Bolton is “preparing” for the possibility he could be called to testify in the ongoing Senate trial, writing that it was “imperative that we have the results of your review of that chapter as soon as possible.”
What was the implication here? It sounds as though Bolton’s legal team wanted to accuse the NSC of obstructing Bolton’s testimony, which seems … rather odd, since the NSC is one of the prime suspects in the leak. Or are they? All of this took place on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. Three days after Cooper’s letter went out, the New York Times published an overview of the Ukraine chapter after having been briefed by “multiple people” with access to it.
Bolton’s legal team lashed out publicly within hours, blaming the leak on the NSC. The White House and its allies also raised questions about the NSC (specifically about the Vindman brothers). However, if Cooper was insinuating that the NSC was blocking the release of the information in order to keep Bolton from testifying, why would the NSC turn around and leak the information? It’s at least plausible that Bolton’s team engineered the leak in order to force the NSC into an uncomfortable position if they didn’t back down.
Not that it matters now, since Republicans seem to have the votes locked down on ending the trial without calling new witnesses. That will no doubt infuriate House Democrats, but they can call Bolton at their leisure later, after having litigated the executive-privilege claim that will follow shortly afterward. Once they do or once the book comes out, Democrats will hail Bolton as a courageous whistleblower — and perhaps not without reason. It’s worth remembering when they do that their respect for Bolton will be both newfound and entirely transactional.
To get a better read on what Democrats actually think of Bolton, just keep this bon mot from Adam Schiff circa March 2018 handy.
“This is someone who’s likely to exaggerate the dangerous impulses of the president toward belligerence, his proclivity to act without thinking, and his love of conspiracy theories,” Schiff said of Bolton to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on March 22, 2018, when Bolton was named Trump’s national security adviser. “And I’ll, you know, just add one data point to what you were talking about earlier: John Bolton once suggested on Fox News that the Russian hack of the DNC [Democratic National Committee] was a false flag operation that had been conducted by the Obama administration.”