Career official says Trump administration ‘commandeered’ Bolton book review for political purposes

Source: Politico | September 23, 2020 | Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney

The claims contained in a scathing 18-page letter could upend the ongoing legal battles over John Bolton’s actions.

A career government official responsible for reviewing former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book manuscript for classified information accused the White House on Tuesday of hijacking the process in what appeared to be a politically motivated effort to block the book’s publication.

The claims contained in a scathing 18-page letter from an attorney for former NSC official Ellen Knight could upend the ongoing legal battles over Bolton’s actions in the lead-up to the release in June of his unflattering-to-the-president, tell-all tome over the strenuous objection of Trump White House officials.

Knight’s anguished and detail-rich account of the process emerged in a court filing Wednesday, just days after reports that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into Bolton’s actions.

Knight concluded that “a designedly apolitical process had been commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose,” her attorney Ken Wainstein said.

Knight describes sustained White House pressure — including a four-hour session with counsel Patrick Philbin and others — that she viewed as an attempt to strong-arm her into admitting mistakes they could use as a pretense to delay the release of the book, “The Room Where It Happened.”

Knight blasted as “unprecedented” the White House’s handling of the process and revealed that senior intelligence officials kept her in the dark for six weeks about a “secretive secondary re-review” conducted by a political appointee.

Knight was most unsparing toward Michael Ellis, a political appointee who, at the time of the book’s review had been recently elevated to a senior intelligence role. Ellis, who had yet to be fully trained in the standards and procedures for classifying information, nevertheless undertook his own review of Bolton’s book and distorted the review process to describe classified material where none existed, she said.

Knight paints Ellis’ review as almost comically amateurish and superficial, consisting of reading through the manuscript and flagging “hundreds of passages” that might be considered classified. However, Knight explained that the more rigorous, granular review she conducts involves determining not only what might touch on sensitive subjects, but which discrete facts are classified and what information is already in the public domain through public statements from the White House or other government officials.

“DOJ attorneys showed Ms. Knight the manuscript with Mr. Ellis’s hundreds of marked passages and asked her whether it was possible that she and her team had simply ‘missed this much classified information,’” Knight’s attorney describes in the filing. “She firmly responded that that was not possible, and she proceeded to explain how Mr. Ellis’s re-review of the manuscript was fundamentally flawed.”

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