WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton unlawfully disclosed classified information when he published a memoir this summer, a case that the department opened after it failed to stop the book’s publication this summer, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The department has convened a grand jury, which issued a subpoena for communications records from Simon & Schuster, publisher of Bolton’s memoir, “The Room Where It Happened.”
The Trump administration had sought to stop its publication, accusing Bolton in a lawsuit of moving forward with publication without receiving final notice that a prepublication review to scrub out classified information was complete. The director of national intelligence referred the matter to the Justice Department last month, two of the people said. John Demers, head of the department’s national security division, then opened the criminal investigation, according to a person briefed on the case.
Bolton has denied that he published classified information.
Bolton’s account of his time working for Trump and his efforts to get the book published set off a furor. He confirmed elements of the Ukraine scheme that prompted impeachment, wrote that the president was willing to intervene in criminal investigations to curry favor with foreign dictators and said he sought China’s help in winning reelection.
Trump has made clear he wants his former aide prosecuted.
Lawyers for the National Security Council and the Justice Department expressed reservations about opening a criminal case, in part because Trump’s public statements made it seem like an overtly political act, according to two officials briefed on the discussions. Others noted that a federal judge this summer said that Bolton may have broken the law and that the case had merit.
Bolton had agreed to let national security officials review any book he might eventually write before publication to make sure that it contained no classified information. The department accused Bolton of giving 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 the department sued Bolton just a week before his book was set to hit retailers in June, and a federal judge said it was too late to keep the book out of the hands of readers.
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