Legal experts explain how John Bolton can lawfully break his silence and speak out against Trump
Former Ambassador John R. Bolton speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Last week during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Republicans closed the door on the possibility of featuring former National Security Adviser John Bolton or anyone else as a witness: only two Republicans, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, voted in favor of featuring witnesses during the trial. But Democrats are still determined to hear what Bolton has to say in his forthcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” (due out March 17). And legal experts Jameel Jaffer and Ramya Krishnan, in an article for Law & Crime, examine some possible ways in which Bolton can lawfully speak out on Ukraine.


“The fact that Bolton’s book is in the hands of the censors does not mean that Bolton could not share his story with the public now if he wanted to,” explain Jaffer (former deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU) and Krishnan (a staff attorney at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute).

One of the things the Trump White House has been doing in the hope of silencing Bolton is claiming that they are worried about him possibly revealing classified information. But according to Jaffer and Krishnan, there are ways around that.

“If he wanted to, Bolton could, this afternoon, release a version of his story that avoided details that could plausibly be characterized as classified,” Jaffer and Krishnan assert. “He could do this in writing or in a press conference or interview. Technically, he would have to submit even this version of his story for pre-publication review — to the extent he prepared notes for it — but his failure to submit wouldn’t result in significant legal exposure. The government couldn’t prosecute him for disclosing classified information if he hadn’t disclosed classified information.”

The legal experts acknowledge that “Bolton would face serious criminal exposure if he simply published his book without waiting for a green-light from the censors.” But they stress that Trump’s former national security adviser could “file a lawsuit to force the government to review his book quickly. Bolton could do that this afternoon.”

“These kinds of lawsuits are routine and not particularly complicated,” Jaffer and Krishnan note. “And Bolton would have a strong case that time is of the essence, that the public interest in his story is immense, and that the delay in review is causing him irreparable harm.”