WASHINGTON >> The Justice Department has closed its criminal investigation into whether a disparaging memoir by former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton illegally disclosed classified information, and it is finalizing a deal to drop its lawsuit aimed at recouping profits from the book, according to two people briefed on the matter.
The agreement would end an effort that began under the Trump administration to silence Bolton and sue him over the book’s profits. Ending both the inquiry and the lawsuit is a clear rebuke by Attorney General Merrick Garland of the Trump Justice Department’s tactics in the matter.
The details of the agreement were unclear. A settlement by the Justice Department is likely to shield Trump administration officials from being forced to answer questions under oath about their time in office. A federal judge had given Bolton’s lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, approval to begin deposing those officials, but a settlement would end that litigation.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.
The legal action against Bolton began this past year after Trump publicly and privately pressured White House aides and Justice Department officials to use their powers to stop Bolton from publishing his book about his time working in Trump’s White House, “The Room Where It Happened.” In June 2020, the Justice Department sued Bolton, seeking to stop the publication of the memoir and to recoup profits he made from it; a judge ruled that the department could continue to seek the profits but could not stop its publication.
It was revealed in September that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation into whether Bolton had unlawfully disclosed classified information in the book — an inquiry that started after the Trump administration failed to halt its publication. As part of the investigation, the department issued a grand jury subpoena to the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, for communications records about the memoir.
Relying on detailed accounts from Bolton’s tenure as national security adviser, the book depicted Trump as a corrupt leader who put his personal and financial interests above the country’s national security.
Released last June, it quickly became a bestseller and fed an increasingly damaging narrative about Trump during his reelection campaign. The Justice Department moved ahead with its lawsuit seeking to seize Bolton’s profits, and with the criminal investigation, including taking the unusual step of subpoenaing Simon & Schuster.
The Biden Justice Department inherited the matter and had spent recent weeks negotiating the terms of the settlement with Bolton’s legal team, according to a person briefed on the matter.
During the presidential transition, Biden advisers examined an array of difficult issues related to Trump and how the Justice Department operated under Attorney General William Barr that they were likely to confront after taking office.
From an examination of the publicly available materials about Bolton’s case, the Biden transition advisers concluded that the department had acted in a highly political manner. The department, the advisers contended, could allow the lawsuit over book profits to proceed but had the potential to expose unsavory behavior by the Trump White House and Justice Department. The transition advisers believed it would be improper to allow a meritless case to proceed simply to embarrass the Trump administration, and the officials recommended the department drop it.
The White House’s efforts to interfere with Bolton’s book came to light in September when a career administration official accused Trump aides of improperly intervening to prevent Bolton’s account of his time as Trump’s national security adviser from becoming public.
The official, Ellen Knight, a specialist in reviewing books for classified materials, said the aides made false assertions that Bolton had revealed classified material and suggested that they retaliated against her when she refused to go along.
She also said an aide to Trump “instructed her to temporarily withhold any response” to a request from Bolton to review a chapter on the president’s dealings with Ukraine to prevent it from being released during Trump’s first impeachment trial, which centered on allegations that he abused his powers in conducting foreign policy with the government in Kyiv.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.