WASHINGTON, D.C. – A single paper copy in a nondescript envelope arrived at the White House on Dec. 30. Four weeks later, news of John Bolton’s book manuscript about his time as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser has exploded into public view, sending a jolt through the president’s impeachment trial.
The book contains an account of an August conversation in which Bolton says Trump told him that he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from Ukraine until it helped him with investigations into political rival Joe Biden.
It's a dramatic eyewitness rebuttal to claims by Trump and his legal team that the president didn’t hold up the aid for political reasons. The account immediately gave Democrats new fuel in their pursuit of sworn testimony from Bolton and other witnesses, a question expected to be taken up later this week by the Republican-led Senate.
Bolton has already told lawmakers that he is willing to testify, despite the president's order barring aides from cooperating in the probe.
Within hours of the first report, a pre-order link was posted for “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir." The homage to the song from the smash Broadway hit “Hamilton” is styled cheekily inside an oval on the image of the book cover released late Sunday.
Bolton's account was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript on the condition of anonymity to discuss the book. It was first reported by The New York Times.
White House aides have harbored concerns for months about what Bolton might reveal in the book, believing that the former adviser harbored a grudge over policy and personal differences with the president — not least about how he left the administration. Trump insists he “terminated” Bolton, while the former aide has maintained that he quit.
Bolton’s acrimonious departure from the White House came a day before Trump ultimately released the Ukraine aid on Sept. 11. Since leaving his post, he has avoided publicly commenting on his time in the administration, instead quietly writing the 528-page book, which is set to be published on March 17.
Despite its delivery to the National Security Council last month for pre-publication review, the book’s contents were kept to a relatively small circle in the White House that did not include members of the communications staff, officials said. Such a review is standard for the works of former officials with security clearances.
National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said Monday that “No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript.” Still, officials said the White House counsel’s office was briefed on some of the substantive claims. The White House would not say whether Trump, who last week offered reporters his most expansive explanation for why he didn't want Bolton to testify before the Senate, had been briefed.
“The problem with John is it’s a national security problem," Trump told reporters in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. “He knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive and then I have to deal on behalf of the country?”
He added: “It's going to be very hard. It's going to make the job very hard.”
Until Sunday, the book's publisher, Simon & Schuster, wouldn’t even confirm the existence of the book, for which The AP first reported that Bolton received a $2 million advance. Thanks to pre-orders, the book was already No. 13 on the Amazon.com bestseller list as of Monday evening.
Trump called Bolton's claims “false” Monday, while acknowledging that he had yet to see the manuscript. Further, the president and his allies seized on the timing of the revelations about the book to allege that Bolton was seeking to boost his book sales.
“It’s really pretty remarkable that the leak to the NYTimes about the alleged contents of John Bolton’s book coincided precisely with the pre-order page going live on Amazon,” tweeted Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. “It’s almost as if it were intended to boost sales.”
“I think the timing of all of this is very, very suspect,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News, noting it came a day after the Trump team delivered legal arguments before the Senate on Saturday: "And then suddenly, this manuscript has magically appeared in the hands of The New York Times, making very, very big claims."
She noted further that Bolton used the same literary agent as former FBI director James Comey and “Anonymous,” the Trump administration official who wrote a critical 2018 New York Times op-ed and a book released last year.
In a joint statement, Simon & Schuster, Bolton and his literary agency Javelin rejected the White House claims.
“Ambassador John Bolton, Simon & Schuster, and Javelin Literary categorically state that there was absolutely no coordination with the New York Times or anyone else regarding the appearance of information about his book, THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED, at online booksellers,” they said. “Any assertion to the contrary is unfounded speculation.”
Meanwhile, the book remains enmeshed in the review process over the manuscript's use of direct quotes and other material from meetings and foreign leader discussions, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak on the record.
The White House has requested that Bolton remove material it considers classified, the person said. In a statement Sunday, Bolton's attorney, Charles J. Cooper, said it is his and Bolton's “firm belief that the manuscript contained no information that could reasonably be considered classified."
AP writers Hillel Italie in New York and Eric Tucker and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.