Then-national security adviser John Bolton listens to President Donald Trump speak during a meeting at the White House April 9, 2019.
CNN  — 

Former national security adviser John Bolton is accusing the White House of attempting to censor him from sharing “embarrassing facts” about President Donald Trump in a election year, and has asked a federal court to dismiss the Department of Justice’s attempt to stop the release of his book next week

Bolton argued in a court filing Thursday night that it’s too late to stop the release of his book on June 23, and says that the government can’t do so because it would violate his First Amendment rights.

The sharpness of Bolton’s allegations – which include Trump allegedly asking China’s leader to help him win the 2020 election and expressing support for concentration camps for Muslims in China – and the amount of new detail, declarations and notes he includes in the filing escalate the battle between the White House and the former top adviser.

“If the First Amendment stands for anything, it is that the Government does not have the power to clasp its hand over the mouth of a citizen attempting to speak on a matter of great public import,” Bolton’s team wrote to the DC District Court on Thursday. “It is difficult to conceive of speech that is closer to the core of the First Amendment than speech concerning presidential actions in office, including actions at the heart of the President’s impeachment, and it is difficult to conceive of a greater attack on the First Amendment than the suppression of that speech in the service of a reelection campaign.”

Federal District Judge Royce Lamberth will hold a hearing at 1 p.m. ET Friday over whether the court should block the publication.

The Trump administration’s request to stop the book’s publication in the name of protecting national security secrets is a longshot, given how widely copies have already been distributed.

Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee, is known for his independence.

Bolton points out in his filing late Thursday how his book, “The Room Where It Happened,” has already been widely distributed, including to news organizations.

“The practical reality is that neither Ambassador Bolton nor his publisher, Simon & Schuster, has any ability to stop copies from being sold to the general public on June 23. Indeed, the surreal nature of the Government’s request to enjoin publication and distribution of the book was driven home earlier today when a CBS News reporter, holding a copy of the book in her hand, questioned the President’s press secretary about passages in the book on the White House lawn,” his attorneys added.

Bolton said that two days ago, the Trump administration told him which passages in his book it believes should be blacked out before it is published. Those include “passages describing or recounting a significant majority of the President’s conversations with his advisors and with foreign leaders” and “the President’s conversations with his advisors and with foreign leaders,” according to Bolton.

Bolton learned of what he calls the “extensive and sweeping” suggested redactions on Tuesday, the same day the Justice Department sued him over his book’s release.

News reports about the book’s contents this week have sent shockwaves across politics. Bolton also corroborates the details for which Trump was impeached. Trump has tweeted that the book has “made up stories” in it and calls Bolton a “wacko.”

Notes seen for the first time

In the filing Thursday, Bolton appears to make public for the first time the full 17 pages of notes from his book’s pre-publication review process, detailing exactly what phrases and words an administration official wanted him to remove from the manuscript in the first several rounds of the National Security Council’s review.

At times, the words Bolton used in the text aren’t noted in the single-spaced list of edits. But sometimes they are.

The list was apparently written by Ellen Knight, the NSC’s reviewer, who sent it to Bolton in late March to outline edits he needed to make to protect national security secrets.

This is the most substantive revelation yet of Bolton’s negotiations with the Trump administration about what should not appear in the book. The 17 pages of Knight’s notes are labeled “Unclassified.”

The court filing Thursday night also includes several pages of hard-to-decipher handwritten notes that are also marked as “unclassified.” They are Bolton’s notes from his review meetings with Knight.

Multiple review sessions

Bolton describes how he spent hours with Knight as the two scoured all 14 chapters of his book four times. He says he accepted the “vast majority” of Knight’s suggestions for changes to avoid disclosing national security secrets, and that she had concluded no classified information was left in the manuscript.

A major part of the Justice Department’s complaint against Bolton is the allegation that the final version of his book still contains classified details. The DOJ sent to the court on Wednesday sworn statements from top intelligence and national security professionals saying that the book still contained state secrets, even after Knight had finished her review.

Bolton says that Knight told him in late April that her conversations with the White House about the book were “very delicate.”

The White House’s lawyer for the National Security Council told Bolton last week his book still had classified details in it.

“It soon became obvious that the White House had no intention of permitting Ms. Knight to issue the clearance letter, but instead was attempting to run out the clock before the election by simply refusing to respond to Ambassador Bolton’s requests,” Bolton’s team wrote on Thursday.

Thousands of copies

In addition to trying to halt its publication, the Justice Department is seeking to claim Bolton’s proceeds from the book because he did not formally finish the government’s pre-publication review process, in breach of his contract.

The contract dispute isn’t likely to end in the next week. Contract disputes often end with authors in situations like Bolton’s having to turn over earnings to the government.

Bolton learned of what he calls the “extensive and sweeping” suggested redactions on Tuesday, the same day the Justice Department sued him over his book’s release.

Bolton also details just how extensively his book has been distributed in advance of its June 23 release – not only in the US, but in Australia, the UK, Canada and India as well.

Those foreign distributions amount to thousands of copies of the book, he writes.

Bolton’s publisher has already distributed 200,000 copies of the book in the US, he said.

“There is nothing that Ambassador Bolton can do to stop the book from becoming public on June 23; indeed, it is already public,” according to the court filing.

The Justice Department argued previously that if the court orders Bolton to halt the book’s release, that could stop the US publisher, Simon & Schuster, and commercial resellers from distributing it as well.

The head of Simon & Schuster went to bat for Bolton in a striking statement Thursday accusing the White House of trying to block the book to protect the President.

The publishing company’s CEO Jonathan Karp wrote in a sworn affidavit that the book shows Bolton’s view that Trump “routinely puts his own interest in being reelected ahead of the national security interests of the United States.”

“The many public statements President Trump has made about the Book further reinforce my belief that the Trump Administration’s actual objective is to shield the President from an unflattering portrait of his leadership and not to protect the national security interests of the United States,” Karp wrote.

“Based on my decades of publishing experience, I have absolute confidence that the Book is a matter of utmost public importance,” Karp writes.

Simon & Schuster is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Bolton says he judged classification

Among his arguments, Bolton asserts that he had no requirement to get formal sign-off from officials reviewing the book for classified details because “he was confident that the manuscript did not contain classified information,” according to his court filing Thursday.

He said he shared his manuscript with administration reviewers “only out of an abundance of caution.”

It’s a somewhat odd argument, especially in light of the standard book review process the government conducts.

Still, Bolton alleges that the process he went through for reviewing his book violates his due process rights under the Constitution because several rounds of review allows an administration “to add review-upon review atop the normal process and delay the publication of Ambassador’s book indefinitely,” according to his filing. He called the process “arbitrary.”

This story has been updated with more details from the filing and additional reporting.