Bolton’s purported $2 million advance is now in jeopardy. A federal judge said Bolton likely published classified information without government approval, which means the Justice Department can try to seize his profits or even bring criminal charges. Trump signaled his support for the latter, saying Tuesday that Bolton “should be in jail.”
CNN broke down some key takeaways from Bolton’s book and media tour, highlighting details you may have missed.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has repeatedly called for the Justice Department to investigate and imprison his political enemies, including his predecessor Barack Obama, his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and many others. This week, Bolton joined the list.
In a series of tweets, Trump recently claimed Bolton “broke the law” and “should be in jail.”
Bolton denies committing any crimes, but the Justice Department will weigh in on that. Under Attorney General Bill Barr, the department has rigorously investigated some Trump critics and shown extraordinary deference to Trump’s allies who were convicted of crimes. (Two Justice Department officials testified to Congress on Wednesday about these alleged political abuses.)
Asked by Blitzer if he’s prepared to go to jail over the book, Bolton said, “I don’t think there is any reason, whatever, for that to happen.” Bolton acknowledged that he might need to give up the proceeds from his book, but said he would fight in court to prevent that outcome.
“The judge’s decision creates some issues for Bolton. Combine that with a Bill Barr-run Justice Department that hasn’t been shy about going out on a limb,” said Ross Garber, a former CNN legal analyst with extensive expertise in politically charged investigations. “If I were Bolton or his lawyer, that would be of great concern. The judge gave some air cover for criminal charges.”
Fighting over classified material
While there is essentially no evidence to support Trump’s claims that Bolton’s memoir is filled with outright lies, there is a more compelling case to be made that it contains potentially classified information, according to legal experts familiar with the case.
“There are a number of examples, but one that really stands out for me is the discussion of the President’s decision-making on bombing Iran,” said Norm Eisen, former counsel to House Democrats and ethics czar in the Obama White House. “The specificity of the deliberations, the structure of the President’s reasoning and that of other senior level officials and the high value of all that information to Iran and to other adversaries when there are future tensions.”
rForeign intelligence services and analysts are likely using Bolton’s book to gain insights into the sitting president, Eisen added, noting “that is not good for our national security.”
However, Eisen told CNN he does not believe Bolton should have kept his concerns to himself but rather presented them in a controlled environment, like during the impeachment inquiry, where careful judgments could be made about what information was made public.
More information on this key topic will come to light in the coming months if the Justice Department continues to pursue its case against Bolton and tries to claw back his earnings from the book.
Key claims corroborated
Bolton’s claims deserve scrutiny, as do his motives. He did not testify during Trump’s impeachment proceedings — where he could have shared these details under oath, and without expecting payment. And given his unceremonious departure from the administration, and the personal attacks he and the President exchange on Twitter, he appears to have an axe to grind.
But many of the book’s key claims are corroborated by CNN’s past reporting.
The book includes stunning new details about Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders, including his deference to China. Bolton claims Trump didn’t want to upset trade talks, so he refused to sanction China over its use of concentration camps for Uyghurs and other minority Muslims.
Bolton also details a meeting last year between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, where Trump urged Xi to buy American agricultural products to help his reelection. This shocking claim was denied by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last week and has not been independently verified, but Bolton said Tuesday he would consider testifying about the meeting.
Trump’s most sensitive topic
In the book, Bolton shed new light on the Trump-Russia scandal and Trump’s response to Russian meddling.
Instead, Trump has embraced conspiracy theories that absolve Russia of responsibility. He even publicly accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials during their infamous 2018 summit in Finland, which Bolton described in the book as a “self-inflicted wound” for Trump.
“He did not like talking about election interference,” Bolton told ABC News on Sunday. “He made what I viewed as the mistake of believing that if he accepted that the Russians had intervened in the 2016 election, that it legitimized the narrative that they had intervened to help him, hurt Hillary Clinton, and that he would not have won without the Russian interference.”
This corroborates what other ex-Trump advisers told special counsel Robert Mueller, including former chief strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus, spokesman Sean Spicer, campaign official Rick Gates, and Hope Hicks, who returned to a White House post this year.
Trump’s unwillingness to acknowledge Russian meddling has hampered his ability to forcefully respond to Russia, a geopolitical adversary that is still trying to undermine US democracy. The Trump administration has taken some punitive steps against Russia, but Trump himself has adopted a Russia-friendly posture, and even tried to undo some of these steps, Bolton said, like new US sanctions on Kremlin allies.
Is Bolton the new Comey?
Bolton finds himself in a strangely similar position to Comey, the FBI head Trump fired in 2017. Both had high-profile departures under Trump and later condemned his behavior — but they also garnered considerable controversy for their decisions, and burned some bridges along the way.
This reasoning hasn’t satisfied Bolton’s detractors. It’s similar to how years ago, few were persuaded by Comey’s explanation why he publicly discussed the Clinton email investigation but never said anything about the Trump-Russia investigation until after Trump took office. Like Bolton, Comey possessed explosive information about Trump but kept quiet during a critical period.
This article has been updated with analysis on the comparison between Bolton and Comey.