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Justice Dept. Ends Criminal Inquiry, Lawsuit on John Bolton’s Book

Justice Dept. Ends Criminal Inquiry, Lawsuit on John Bolton’s Book

The Justice Department has closed its criminal investigation into whether a disparaging memoir by President Donald J. Trump’s national security adviser John R. Bolton illegally disclosed classified information and dropped its lawsuit aimed at recouping profits from the book, according to two people briefed on the matter and a court filing.

The agreement ends an effort that began under the Trump administration to silence Mr. Bolton and sue him over the book’s profits. Ending both the inquiry and the lawsuit is a clear rebuke by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland of the Trump Justice Department’s tactics in the matter.

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 Mr. Bolton’s lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, approval to begin deposing those officials, but a settlement would end that litigation.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

The legal action against Mr. Bolton began last year after Mr. Trump publicly and privately pressured White House aides and Justice Department officials to use their powers to stop Mr. Bolton from publishing his book about his time working in Mr. Trump’s White House, “The Room Where It Happened.” In June 2020, the Justice Department sued Mr. 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 last September that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation into whether Mr. 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 Mr. Bolton’s tenure as national security adviser, the book depicted Mr. Trump as a corrupt leader who put his personal and financial interests above the country’s national security.

Released in June, it immediately became a best seller and fed an increasingly damaging narrative about Mr. Trump during his re-election campaign. The Justice Department moved ahead with its lawsuit seeking to seize Mr. Bolton’s profits and 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Trump and how the Justice Department operated under Attorney General William P. Barr that they were likely to confront after taking office.

From an examination of the publicly available materials about Mr. 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 Mr. Bolton’s book came to light in September when a career administration official accused Trump aides of improperly intervening to prevent Mr. Bolton’s account of his time as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser from becoming public.

The official, a specialist in reviewing books for classified materials named Ellen Knight, said that the aides made false assertions that Mr. Bolton had revealed classified material and suggested that they retaliated against her when she refused to go along.

She also said an aide to Mr. Trump “instructed her to temporarily withhold any response” to a request from Mr. Bolton to review a chapter on the president’s dealings with Ukraine to prevent it from being released during Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial, which centered on allegations that he abused his powers in conducting foreign policy with the government in Kyiv.

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