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WASHINGTON — John Bolton has stepped into some serious legal trouble, and it could cost him his $2 million book deal.
Bolton is “likely” to lose his courtroom showdown with the Trump administration, which is suing to claw back earnings from Bolton’s tell-all insider account of working for President Trump, the federal judge overseeing the case said Saturday.
Even worse: Bolton has opened himself up to potential criminal penalties for including classified information in his memoir, the judge said.
“Bolton has gambled with the national security of the United States,” Judge Royce Lambreth of the District of Columbia wrote in a judicial ruling. “He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability.”
Bolton’s fresh legal drama marks the latest twist in his tumultuous relationship with Trump. Bolton served as Trump’s national security advisor for 18 months, but now, Trump is threatening Bolton with “criminal penalties” over the damning memoir due to be released Tuesday.
Bolton’s book casts Trump’s White House as fundamentally dysfunctional, and presents Trump as profoundly ignorant of basic facts about global politics and obsessed with winning a second term above all else — to the point of explicitly asking China to help.
The judge ruled that the book, “The Room Where it Happened,” can be released on Tuesday, since there’s no hope of keeping it under wraps this close to its publication date. Hundreds of thousands of copies have already been distributed around the world after Bolton signed a book deal widely reported to be worth $2 million.
But Bolton opened himself up to legal trouble because he decided to publish the book before a formal White House vetting process for classified information had officially concluded, the judge said.
Bolton has argued that he took care not to include any classified information, while the Trump administration insists that the book is actually stuffed with state secrets.
“In our view, there remains very highly classified material in the book, still. And we would like him to address that,” Attorney General William Barr said over the weekend. “The remedy, if he doesn’t complete it, is that he forfeits any money from that book to the government.”
The case hasn’t yet been concluded, but the judge said Saturday that a preliminary review of the facts indicate that the Trump administration appears to be correct.
“This was Bolton’s bet: If he is right and the book does not contain classified information, he keeps the upside,” Lambreth wrote. “But if he is wrong, he stands to lose his profits from the book deal, exposes himself to criminal liability, and imperils national security. Bolton was wrong.”
Bolton argues that the Trump administration has been simply trying to censor him with a lengthy declassification review that had already stretched out for months.
“He didn’t want the book to come out before the election,” Bolton said of Trump in an interview with ABC News broadcast Sunday night. “This is about suppressing an unfavorable account of his presidency.”
Several high-profile national security law experts following the case say Bolton, indeed, appears to be cruising for a courtroom defeat in which he’ll have to hand over the money, at the very least.
“It almost always was a foregone conclusion that DOJ’s part of the lawsuit to seize Bolton’s financial proceeds would succeed,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer and a partner at the Washington, D.C. law office of Mark S. Zaid, P.C.
But the odds of Bolton facing a criminal charge for the unauthorized release of classified information seem less likely, Moss said, because the Department of Justice would probably have to explain how classification decisions were made about the material in the book — and whether some of them were made in an attempt simply to thwart Bolton.
“The government’s case in such a proceeding will face significant inquiries into the procedural drama of the classification review,” Moss said. “None of this is to say DOJ can’t get a conviction against Mr. Bolton: it just means it will be messy and a risky bet.”
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks as National security advisor John Bolton listens during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on May 22, 2018 in Washington DC, USA. Photo by Oliver Contreras/Pool/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.