The Bolton publishing fracas is a swamp game that needs to end
Having failed to knock President Trump from office, former national security adviser John Bolton is working on a second swing at the president, this time with the release of his tell-all memoirs just ahead of elections. He's running into interference from the White House, however, which is raising questions as to whether "public service" should always entitle an official to hold a policy sword over the president's head or make a big bundle of cash.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. on Tuesday filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against former national security adviser John Bolton, seeking to delay the publication of his book, which the suit alleges contains classified information that could compromise national security.
The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, accuses Mr. Bolton of breaching the contract he signed as a condition of his employment and to access classified information. The suit marked the latest effort by the Trump administration to block the publication of "The Room Where It Happened" — set for June 23 — which is expected to be harshly critical of President Trump.
"We are reviewing the Government's complaint and will respond in due course," said Mr. Bolton's lawyer, Charles Cooper.
The book's publisher, Simon & Schuster, said in a statement Tuesday that the lawsuit is "nothing more than the latest in a long running series of efforts by the Administration to quash publication of a book it deems unflattering to the President."
The press is framing the issue as one of transparency, and Trump being a dictator. Bolton is using the controversy to gin up sales — everyone is now supposed to think there must be something really juicy inside, so buy the book.
The reality is, book publishing by people with high classified security clearances has always been a matter of contentious disputes. In most cases, the argument is about over-classification of material, but it's often about claims of suppressing whistleblowers, too. The Frank Snepp Decent Interval book case of 1977, the 1974 Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence case, and a couple of others were all in these categories. There also was the repulsive case of apparent CIA double agent, or traitor agent Philip Agee, who got his jollies from publishing the names of CIA officers for the benefit of his communist masters, actually getting one of them killed. His 1975 CIA memoir was called Inside the Company: A CIA Diary, which was effectively aid to the enemy disguised as whistleblowing. Agee spent his last years in Caracas and died a miserable death in Havana in 2008, like his buddy Hugo Chávez, a victim of Castrocare.
With Bolton, it's simply about taking out the president. The Trumpsters can see this, which is why they are hurling the "classified" weapon. In the Journal article, Trump officials marveled at how quickly Bolton got the book done — almost as if he had been writing "dear diary" every night after work. And Trump said he gave Bolton "a break" in hiring him, which has got to make them mad. We never saw this sort of thing with those last CIA memoir disputes.
Vindictive or not, protective of secrets or not, the bottom line to the rest of us is that presidential appointments to some are now seen as money-making opportunities, not chances to serve the country. Book publishing has long been a conduit to launder such "earnings" — the money the Obamas have raked in since leaving the presidency is a recent example. It seems to have gotten off the ground from the example of Russian "reform" premier Anatoli Chubais, an old Clinton ally, whose $450,000 book deal pretty well killed off popular support for free-market reforms in Russia.
It's an established swamp game, and anyone who lands a White House appointment now gets a publishing kickback if he wants one.
How exactly does this setup serve the country? How does it serve the president who appoints these people, only to see them hold those profits for themselves as a primary aim and the blackmail potential to the president as another? Do as I say or read my tell-all book?
Trump's fight against these ungrateful officials seems feeble, indeed, with the use of the too-much-classified-information argument. The problem is one of character and a system that seems set up to reward this kind of mercenary behavior. It doesn't serve Trump, but more importantly, it doesn't serve us, to see the person we elected always fighting for his political life. There probably ought to be a law out that public service needs to be public service, and any of this service as a means of memoir-profiteering needs to end. In any case, the country is ill served by self-serving swamp things whose first priority is to use their public office as a means to undercut leaders they don't like and, worse still, feed at the trough.
Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr.