President Donald Trump consistently behaves as though he’s the final arbiter of the law — but that’s just not how the presidency works. The latest context in which he displayed his wannabe totalitarian tendencies, however, is the new book from his former national security adviser, John Bolton, who has a memoir scheduled to come out very soon covering his time in the White House. Bolton’s book seems like it contains revelations of presidential misconduct and evidence relevant to already well-known scandals like Trump’s attempt to bribe Ukraine into investigating the Bidens. At the White House this Monday, Trump claimed that it’s “inappropriate” for Bolton to have written his book and insisted that “every conversation with me as president” is “highly classified” — which is just not true.
Trump said, discussing Bolton’s book:
‘If he wrote a book, I can’t imagine that he can because that’s highly classified information. I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified. So that would mean if he wrote a book and if the book gets out, he’s broken the law and I would think he would have criminal problems.’
In those remarks, Trump made up a law — that all presidential conversations are “highly classified” — just so he could accuse someone of being a potential criminal. That’s not how the law works, though. Presidents don’t get to just make things up at whim. How is there no one in any of the president’s inner circles who’s made this clear to him yet?
ABC News reported early Monday that the Trump administration was planning to file a lawsuit meant to try and block Bolton’s book from publication, in part on the apparent basis of these dubious claims that there’s classified information in Bolton’s book manuscript. In fact, Bolton has been working to bring his manuscript in line with concerns about actual classified information already, and the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has stated that this work is reflected in the final manuscript that the Trump team is still trying to block anyway.
Bolton’s side has already revealed a public rebuttal to the Trump administration’s claims of impropriety on the former national security adviser’s part. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Bolton lawyer Chuck Cooper said:
‘This last-minute allegation came after an intensive four-month review, after weeks of silence from the White House, and… after press reports alerted the White House that Mr. Bolton’s book would be published on June 23. This is a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import. This attempt will not succeed, and Mr. Bolton’s book will be published June 23.’
The Trump team, of course, has a long history of trying to block potentially damaging information from getting out. They’ve infamously refused to comply with just about any Congressional investigation, including those connected to Trump’s impeachment, and their defenses for these blockades have been dubious, at best. They’ve tried to apply the concept of “executive privilege” to many disparate things.