Trump told reporters in the White House Cabinet Room on Monday that he believes Bolton risks serious penalties, after reports the Trump administration will seek a court injunction barring release of the book.
“I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified,” Trump said. “If the book gets out, he’s broken the law. And I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.”
On Friday, Bolton and his publisher Simon & Schuster vowed to disregard White House claims that the book contains secrets and release it on June 23.
“Maybe he’s not telling the truth, he’s been known not to tell the truth, a lot,” Trump said. “Any conversation with me is classified. Then it becomes even worse if he lies about the conversation, which I understand he might have in some cases.”
Trump added: “You’re not talking about like he has to return $3 he made on a book — that’s called criminal liability. That’s a big thing.”
Attorney General William Barr, seated near Trump, said Bolton “hasn’t completed the process” of pre-publication review, as required.
“It’s about very current events and current leaders and current discussions and current policy issues, many of which are inherently classified,” Barr said.
Bolton and his publisher say that the claims are mere pretext to prevent the book from being released.
“This is the book Donald Trump doesn’t want you to read,” Bolton’s office and publisher said in a statement promoting “In The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” The statement said that Bolton already had worked with the White House National Security Council “to incorporate changes to the text that addressed NSC concerns.”
“Trump directed the seizure of and withheld his personal and other unclassified documents, despite numerous requests for their return. He also obstructed Bolton’s Twitter account and made outright threats of censorship. Bolton’s response? Game on,” the Friday statement claimed.
The White House previously denied locking Bolton out of his personal Twitter account, saying he was “of an advanced age” and may not realize that “all you have to do is contact Twitter and reset your password if you’ve forgotten it.”
Bolton was ousted last year after his hawkish views increasingly conflicted with foreign-policy leanings of Trump. A final breakdown included disagreement on holding talks with the Taliban at Camp David.
Even some anti-Trump experts say that Bolton risks possible criminal charges and loss of book revenue if he releases the book without official permission.
“If [the government] deems even one word classified, Bolton can be prosecuted. Regardless, failure to obtain approval subjects him to civil liability,” said Mark Zaid, a prominent national security attorney who represented the whistleblower that triggered Trump’s impeachment for encouraging Ukraine to investigate Democrats.