(Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday expressed doubt the White House could keep former national security adviser John Bolton’s memoir out of the public’s hands, after media outlets released excerpts and more than 200,000 copies were distributed.
“The horse, as we used to say in Texas, seems to be out of the barn,” U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington said at a hearing.
Lamberth is weighing the Trump administration’s emergency request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the scheduled June 23 publication of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.”
The administration says the book contains classified information and threatens national security. Lamberth said he will review the book before ruling.
Bolton’s book has drawn wide attention for its withering portrayal of Trump.
It said politics drove Trump’s foreign policy, including his imploring Chinese President Xi Jinping for help in winning re-election, and detailed alleged improprieties not addressed in Trump’s impeachment trial.
Trump ousted Bolton, a foreign policy hawk, last September after 17 months as national security adviser.
David Morrell, a Department of Justice lawyer, called Bolton a “disgruntled” former employee who should not be “rewarded” for publishing without government clearance required by his nondisclosure agreement.
He said Bolton should “claw” the book back or staunch its distribution, including audio books.
“This is a problem of his own making,” Morrell said.
Bolton’s lawyer Charles Cooper countered that halting publication would violate his client’s free speech rights.
“The speech has been spoken,” Cooper said. “It can’t be unspoken.”
Lamberth also questioned whether Bolton raced his book to publication because the government review was too slow.
“He just walked away, and told the publisher, go publish,” he asked Cooper. “Isn’t that what happened?”
Trump on Thursday tweeted that the book was “a compilation of lies and made up stories” to make him look bad.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)