John Bolton's cowardice has come back to bite him

John Bolton's cowardice has come back to bite him
White House National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton talks to reporters Wednesday, May 1, 2019, outside the West Wing entrance of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

For one magic moment, the eyes of the nation were on former National Security Adviser John Bolton. The impeachment of President Donald Trump was ongoing, and Bolton was known to have played a critical role behind the scenes of the Ukraine scheme at the heart of the proceedings' charges. Reports indicated that his potential testimony would be explosive.


But Bolton refused to testify before the House of Representatives' impeachment hearing, later saying he was only willing to testify for the Senate. Yet the Republican Party that would ultimately acquit Trump in the Senate refused to call any witnesses, so Bolton's voice was never heard. At a critical moment in the nation's history, Bolton chose to withhold potentially vital information from the public and from the officials tasked with adjudicating the president's fitness to serve.

Now that cowardice has come back to bite him.

Bolton has sought to publish a book recounting his time in the White House, which will delve into key events in the Ukraine saga. But with impeachment over and that scandal in the rearview mirror, interest in Bolton's recollections has waned. So when his lawyer, Chuck Cooper, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to complain that the White House is preventing Bolton from publishing his book, few observers were overflowing with sympathy.

Cooper explained:

President Trump doesn’t want John Bolton to publish his book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” It was supposed to come out in March, but Simon & Schuster was twice forced to push the publication date back more than three months, to June 23, while the manuscript underwent “prepublication review” by the National Security Council (NSC).

The purpose of prepublication review is to protect national-security secrets. Regulations disallow its use “to prevent embarrassment to a person.” Yet that’s how the White House has used the process in this case. The effort violates those regulations and Mr. Bolton’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.

Pointing to public reports and Bolton's own extensive efforts with administration officials to ready the book for publication, Cooper suggested that the book is being blocked to save Trump from any damaging information it contains. But he said it won't work.

"This is a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import," he wrote. "This attempt will not succeed, and Mr. Bolton’s book will be published June 23."

This is, to be sure, a clear abuse of power. As Cooper pointed out, the federal government is not supposed to use the pre-clearance process to prevent former officials from publishing unclassified claims for the purpose of protecting the administration from embarrassment.

And while we should never brush off Trump's abuses of power, as numerous as they are, Bolton is in the worst possible position to complain. He could have participated in the impeachment proceedings, as was his civic duty, but he hid behind the White House as a shield. So he enabled Trump's tactics to avoid punishment for his previous abuses of powers. And if Bolton had testified, much of the content the White House is so concerned about becoming public would already be public, so it would have a much weaker excuse to delay publication.

Many speculated at the time, though, that Bolton was afraid of revealing the juiciest details in his book, fearing they would dampen sales. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect. Interest in Bolton and in the impeachment drama has since faded as the pandemic, recession, and nationwide protests have overwhelmed the country.

Former DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller was sharply disdainful of Cooper's piece in the Journal:

Bolton may yet get his book published, though the White House could move once again to block him. But his struggle to get it to the presses would probably have been much easier if he had just done the right thing and testified in the first place.

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