Justice Department drops Trump-era criminal probe and lawsuit related to John Bolton’s book

The Justice Department has closed a criminal investigation and dropped a lawsuit related to former Trump national security adviser John Bolton’s book.

The Trump-era criminal investigation had scrutinized whether Bolton’s book illegally revealed national security information, while the lawsuit had sought to grab royalties from Bolton for publishing his book without full approval.

Bolton’s attorney Charles Cooper applauded President Joe Biden’s Justice Department for ending all of the legal proceedings against the Trump adviser-turned-political foe. Cooper said the cases appeared to be politically motivated.

“We argued from the outset that neither action was justifiable, because they were initiated only as a result of President Trump’s politically motivated order to prevent publication of the Ambassador’s book before the 2020 election,” Cooper said in a statement.

“By ending these proceedings without in any way penalizing Ambassador Bolton or limiting his proceeds from the book, the Department of Justice has tacitly acknowledged that President Trump and his White House officials acted illegitimately,” Cooper added.

The book, released in June 2020, boasted a series of shocking allegations, including that Trump requested Chinese help to win the 2020 presidential election, had argued Venezuela is part of the US, had casually offered to intervene in the criminal justice system for foreign leaders, and that his own senior officials mocked him behind his back.

Early in the Biden administration, Justice Department officials began discussing ways to end the criminal investigation of Bolton, according to people briefed on the matter.

Career lawyers had long viewed the civil and criminal cases as politically tainted because of the involvement of top White House officials and the former president’s public statements.

Prosecutors also realized, the people briefed on the matter said, that they likely couldn’t use testimony from what would have been their star witness, Michael Ellis, a former White House national security lawyer who the former president tried to install as general counsel at the National Security Agency. The Biden administration suspended the NSA appointment and it became the subject of an internal Pentagon probe before he eventually resigned.

The Bolton book — a damaging moment for Trump politically during an election year — is one of the episodes that garnered significant criticism of the Trump administration’s politicization of the intelligence community and Justice Department.

Trump-era effort to stop the book

Former Attorney General William Barr had signed off on a White House request to sue in order to stop the publication of Bolton’s book in an extraordinary move just days before its release.

In line with his hands-off approach outside of his political circle, Barr sent then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to discuss with department attorneys how they must file the lawsuit against Bolton, a person familiar with the handling of the case previously told CNN.

The lawyers advised that an attempt to stop the book publication was ill-fated. But their concerns were ignored and Barr signed off on the lawsuit, the person said. That part of the lawsuit, seeking to stop the publication, failed because the book was already in booksellers’ hands.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that Bolton could seek evidence about the classification process around his book in case there was bad faith decision-making by the White House and intelligence community meant to protect Trump politically.

This story has been updated with additional details.