White House security officials threatened to block publication of John Boltons book unless the former national security adviser deletes information they deemed classified.
In a letter to Boltons attorney, the National Security Council said it determined that the book – news of which roiled President Donald Trumps impeachment trial – includes "top secret" items that could undermine national security. The NSC did not specify what those passages were.
Cooper disputed the assertion that Bolton included classified information in the book. "We do not believe that any of that information could reasonable be considered classified," Boltons attorney said in an email to an NSC official and released to reporters Wednesday.
Under commitments Bolton made when he accepted the job as Trumps national security adviser, the letter says, "the manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information."
The NSC said it would work with Bolton on revisions to the book, which has prompted demands for his testimony in the Senate impeachment trial.
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Boltons team submitted the manuscript to the NSC a month ago for a standard review to see whether the book contains information that should not be made public.
"The manuscript appears to contain significant amounts of classified information," states the White House reply, released Wednesday and signed by Ellen Knight, senior director for records, access and information security management.
Administration officials said Trump and his legal team have not seen the Bolton manuscript and did not participate in the review.
In the submission to the NSC, Cooper said he and associates did not believe the book contained any classified information.
According to a New York Times story published Sunday, Bolton wrote in the book that Trump demanded Ukraine investigate a political rival in exchange for foreign aid, an accusations that is central to the impeachment case against the president.
Trumps critics said the president is desperately trying to prevent Boltons information from becoming public and wondered whether the NSC letter is part of that effort.
"Nobody works this hard to keep the truth from coming out unless the truth is devastating," said Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
Trump warned Senate Republicans on Wednesday not to let Democrats "play" them into calling witnesses for the impeachment trial.
Some Republicans said they might be interested in hearing from witnesses, including Bolton, perhaps enough to force subpoenas this week.
Cooper, in his Jan. 24 email to the NSCs Knight, wrote that "although no one yet knows whether the Senate will subpoena him to testify, (Bolton) is preparing for that possibility." Cooper said it was "imperative" for the White House to alert him quickly about any issues with the Ukraine chapter of the book, since "it seems certain" he will be asked about that if hes called to testify.
Trump, White House aides and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are trying to lobby GOP senators to move for a quick dismissal of the case.
Some critics said they are concerned that the Trump administration is trying to intimidate Bolton. Bolton is a veteran national security official – and frequent author – and they said he would not include top secret information in a book as a matter of course.
"The idea that Bolton would draft a manuscript that contains significant amounts of classified information is ridiculous," tweeted former Justice Department official Michael Bromwich. "He knows what’s classified and what’s not. This is tampering with the pre-publication process to intimidate and achieve political ends."
Legal analysts said its hard to gauge the seriousness of the NSCs challenge to Boltons book and whether it could lead to delay of publication.
Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith said he wouldnt describe the NSC letter as "a threat." He tweeted that "it says manuscript contains significant amount of classified info, correctly says Bolton cannot publish classified info, and pledges to work w/ him to identify it."
Goldsmith said he doesnt think the White House has much "legal leverage" and "cannot get prior restraint" against Boltons book. In another tweet, he asked, "Will Bolton comply with requested cuts before publishing, or assume the risk, publish, and litigate later?"
Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national security issues, said that if he was advising Bolton, "I would recommend filing a lawsuit now and seek expedited processing of his case given First Amendment interests."
Zaid, who often handles lawsuits involving pre-publication review challenges, represents the whisteblower involved in the House impeachment investigation.
Bradley Moss, another national security lawyer, described the NSC letter to Bolton as "standard correspondence" on a book that deals with national security.
"It’s just an interim letter advising Bolton that they already found some allegedly classified information," he said, "and reminding him he has an obligation to wait for final approval before publishing."