Last Saturday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth denying the Trump Administration’s motion to halt publication of John R. Bolton’s memoir of his service as National Security Advisor (NSA) means that the public will have a key Administration insider’s sharp views as part of the 2020 Presidential election debate.
While Judge Lamberth refused to order Bolton and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, to refrain from publishing “In The Room Where It Happened,” he clearly stated his view that the book discloses sensitive classified information in violation of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that Bolton voluntarily signed as a condition of his appointment as NSA. The judge also found a likelihood that Bolton’s $2 million advance may be forfeited and that he may be liable to criminal prosecution for violating NDAs.
Over recent weeks, the news has provided vast coverage of Bolton’s memoir. Leading newspapers have published excerpts that are highly critical of the president. And, there has been extensive coverage of the Justice Department’s legal action to halt publication of the book — a legal effort essentially doomed from the start. As Judge Lamberth noted in his opinion, Simon and Schuster had widely disseminated pre-publication copies of the book, major news outlets obtained copies and approximately 200,000 copies of Bolton’s memoir had already been shipped to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a host of other booksellers.
Not surprisingly, opinion about the merits of the book is varied. Opponents of President Trump largely embrace Bolton’s brazen criticisms of the president, while the president’s supporters view the former NSA as nothing short of a traitor.
Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist and former editor of The Jerusalem Post, panned the book in a column titled “The Doom Where It Happened.”
The column is noteworthy because Stephens noted that he, himself, “shares many of Bolton’s hawkish foreign-policy views.”
Stephens quoted Karl Popper, the late renowned British philosopher who said “A theory that explains everything, explains nothing.” He added a corollary deriding Bolton’s opus as “a book that tells all, yet somehow manages to tell nothing.”
Stephens writes that Bolton’s putative revelations about Trump are hardly surprising. “Bolton writes that Trump tried to bend the criminal justice system to do favors for China’s Xi Jinping and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Not surprised…. He writes that, in the midst of trade negotiations, Trump pleaded with Xi to help ‘ensure he’d win’ the 2020 election. Not surprised. He writes that Trump thought China’s construction of concentration camps for ethnic Uighurs was ‘exactly the right thing to do.’ Appalled – but not surprised.”
Perhaps even more telling is Stephens’ view that Bolton’s publication of his memoir is an exercise in cynicism.
“It took cynicism to work for a president whose character he disdained and whose worldview he opposed. It took gullibility to think he could blunt or influence either. It took cynicism to observe the president commit multiple potentially impeachable offenses and then sit out impeachment on the pathetic excuse that Democrats were going about it the wrong way and that his testimony would have made no meaningful difference.
“Above all, it took astonishing foolishness for Bolton to imagine his book would advance the thing he claims to care about most — a hawkish vision of U.S. foreign policy,” Stephens writes.
But withering criticism aside, “In The Room Where It Happened” adds an additional source of an insider’s account of a 17-month period of Bolton’s tenure as Trump’s national security advisor. From the tragic killing of George Floyd, to the coronavirus pandemic and its toll on a previously robust economy, this year’s presidential election comes at a time where the outcome for America will be of paramount importance. Bolton’s memoir adds a sharp critique to the marketplace of ideas that may be considered or rejected by a reader.
Even before its publication date, Bolton’s memoir topped Amazon’s bestseller list via preorders. Despite the Justice Department’s failed effort to halt publication, Bolton’s take on his time as national security advisor is now the stuff of history.