US writers groups have filed amicus briefs opposing a lawsuit brought by the Trump administration in an attempt to block a book by John Bolton, the president’s third national security adviser.
Excerpts of Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, have been widely published since the Department of Justice filed its suit in federal court in Washington DC.
The excerpts have proved tremendously embarrassing to Trump, detailing what Bolton says is impeachable conduct, for example in asking China to help secure his re-election, and in depicting a president ignorant of basic geopolitical realities, like not understanding Finland was an independent country.
“Pen America supports the first amendment right of public employees to produce works that are critical of the government, and of readers to receive their unique perspective unfettered by government censorship,” the brief said.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also filed a brief, with the Association of American Publishers, Dow Jones, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Cases cited included New York Times Co v United States, the landmark 1971 supreme court ruling which said the Nixon administration could not block the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secret report about the Vietnam war.
Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and leading foreign policy hawk, worked at the White House from April 2018 to September 2019, when he resigned and Trump claimed to have fired him.
He did not comply with a House subpoena during impeachment proceedings and was not called as a witness by the Republican-held Senate, before it acquitted the president of abusing his power in attempts to have Ukraine produce dirt on his political rivals.
Bolton told ABC News on Thursday Trump is not “fit for office” and does not have “the competence to carry out the job”. An extensive interview is due to run on ABC on Sunday night. The book is due in stores on 23 June.
Trump has abused Bolton as a “wacko” who nobody liked, claiming his former aide’s allegations are untrue but also that his book should be suppressed as it contains classified information.
Publisher Simon & Schuster and lawyers for Bolton have countered that all classified information was removed in co-ordination with the administration. Some such information has leaked.
The Pen brief notes the vetting process and says: “It is not difficult to see what is going on. The president is employing the apparatus of the federal government to punish his political enemies, thwart freedom of speech, and pursue his political interests in an election year.”
In Washington, district court judge Royce Lamberth was scheduled to hear the DoJ’s case at 1pm on Friday.
In a statement, Nora Benavidez, Pen America’s director of US free expression programmes, said: “A free society cannot abide the government silencing certain perspectives before they are even uttered; such censorship runs contrary to the very notion of what our first amendment was written to guard against.”
“Any result other than dismissal in this case will be an affront to Bolton’s first amendment right to speak and to all of our rights as members of the public and as readers to learn about his views.”
“We know the president has a penchant for lobbing attacks at those whose commentary he wants to suppress. It’s why we sued President Trump in 2018, as he has engaged in an unconstitutional pattern of targeting reporters whose coverage he dislikes. We’ll continue to fight these censorship tactics for our writer members and their readers.”
Bolton also details comments by Trump in which the president said some reporters should be imprisoned or executed.
Most observers do not expect Bolton’s book to be blocked. The attorney Ted Boutros, who worked on the Pen brief, said: “The supreme court has never upheld a prior restraint on speech about matters of public concern, nor should the district court do so in this case.”
Trump books have become big business, ever since the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury in January 2018. Then, after the Guardian published excerpts, the president threatened to go to court. Publisher Henry Holt & Co responded by rushing the book to stores.
Simon & Schuster has also announced the July publication of Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, a book by Trump’s niece.
The publisher says Mary L Trump will describe “a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse” that explain the inner workings of “one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families”.
Trump has reportedly mused about suing to stop that book. According to the Daily Beast, nearly 20 years ago Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, signed a non-disclosure agreement regarding litigation over a family will and her relationship with Donald Trump and his siblings.