In Book Fight, Lawyers Clash on Whether to Fault Bolton or White House

As part of those proceedings, the Justice Department met in private with Judge Lamberth, without any lawyer present to critique its arguments. They went over passages that the department said contained classified information, including an exceptionally secure category, “sensitive compartmented information.”

In a ruling in June, Judge Lamberth declined to order Mr. Bolton to somehow stop further distribution of his book, which had been printed. But the judge went beyond the issue before him and said that the book did appear to contain classified information.

Ms. Knight’s account included a detailed explanation of how Trump political appointees did not understand — or chose to ignore — that even though information might be contained in documents that were still classified, the information itself might not actually be classified.

The Justice Department, represented at the teleconference hearing on Thursday by Jennifer Dickey, insisted that the book did contain classified information. But she also offered Judge Lamberth a way to avoid confronting whether he was mistaken in his ruling.

“It is undisputed that Ambassador Bolton did not receive written authorization before he published it, and therefore he has breached his agreement,” Ms. Dickey said, adding, “Our position is clear that the breach occurs regardless of whether there actually was classified information in the manuscript.”

Several questions are pending before Judge Lamberth.

First, Mr. Bolton’s legal team has asked him to simply dismiss the case, arguing that the government had failed to allege all the elements necessary. The first half of the hearing on Thursday was devoted to arguments on this issue, which turned on contract law and a close reading of the wording of the specific nondisclosure agreements that Mr. Bolton signed with the National Security Agency as a condition of receiving access to classified information.

Second, the Justice Department has asked Judge Lamberth to grant a motion of summary judgment, meaning it would win the lawsuit without further proceedings based on the facts that are already in the record. But Mr. Bolton’s legal team wants the judge to first permit them to develop additional facts — such as by telling them what material is supposedly classified and letting them depose government witnesses and read internal documents about the review process.