DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Over the weekend, a judge ruled against the Trump administration and refused to block the Tuesday publication of a tell-all book by John Bolton, the president's former national security adviser. But the judge also had harsh words for Bolton and said his big paycheck for the book could be in jeopardy. This battle provides a window into this mysterious process involving former national security officials who write about their time in sensitive positions. And let's bring in our national security correspondent Greg Myre, who has been digging into this for us. Hi, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So Bolton, definitely not the first former national security official to publish a book. Just remind us about this process and how things are supposed to work.
MYRE: So these battles have been going on for decades, but they've really heated up in the post-9/11 era, with many more national security officials, CIA officers, members of the military writing books and appearing on TV. Now, once these folks leave office, they are free to write what they want. But there's a bright red line that they can't cross, and that's divulging classified information.
So to ensure this, they're required to submit manuscripts to the place where they worked - so in Bolton's case, this is the National Security Council. The agency checks for classified information, but that can often be a gray area. And the agency is not supposed to be looking for anything that's just embarrassing or opinions that they don't like - just classified information.
GREENE: Well, I mean, is there usually debate over this process? Or does the process usually take place in some orderly way?
MYRE: Well, it can depend. Two examples - former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wrote a book last year. It was mostly about his military career. There were no classification issues. He didn't criticize Trump then, though he has since. So no real drama there. But the second example is former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette. He wrote a book about his role in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It was a huge bestseller, and he made a fortune, but he didn't submit his manuscript to the military. So he ultimately had to forfeit the $6.8 million he earned from that book.
GREENE: Well, and the talk of Bolton's potential earnings and what could happen to that money has now come up. So remind us, where does Bolton's book stand after we had this court ruling over the weekend?
MYRE: So the judge said the horse is out of the barn. News organizations have copies; thousands are in warehouses, about to be shipped. Bolton has given interviews to NPR, among others. And the judge noted that Bolton, like all senior officials, had to sign an agreement requiring advance approval. The NSC has gone over the book page by page with Bolton, and they thought they were done with this process at the end of April. But, apparently, the NSC has launched a second review, and Bolton still hasn't received a final letter of approval.
GREENE: Why would that be? Why hasn't the letter been sent?
MYRE: Well, we don't know for sure. And I spoke with attorney Mark Zaid. He's not involved in this case, but he's represented dozens of clients who've written books like this. And he says the government will drag its feet and play games to delay publication. Still, you can't legally publish unless you get this government approval letter.
MARK ZAID: That's your golden ticket, your Willy Wonka golden ticket, to get out of jail. And Bolton doesn't have it.
MYRE: So without this golden ticket, Bolton's golden paycheck may be at risk. He got a reported $2 million advance, and royalties could follow. But the judge said Bolton made a risky bet, and he could lose this money and even be prosecuted if there's classified information in the book. So the legal case isn't over yet.
GREENE: All right, and we'll be following it. NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks so much, as always.
MYRE: My pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "RIGHTEOUS ENERGY")
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