A judge weighed President Donald Trump's last-ditch bid Friday to stop former top aide John Bolton's bombshell book from publication, but with much of the damning contents already out there was little hope for the White House.
"It certainly looks difficult to me about what I can do about those books all over the country," Judge Royce Lamberth said at a hearing in Washington, DC, federal court, referring to copies of "The Room Where it Happened" that have already been distributed and dissected in the media.
The Justice Department had sought the emergency hearing to halt the official publication on Tuesday. But shipments have already been made to warehouses across the United States and other countries, while Bolton himself has embarked on a series of media interviews to promote the work.
"The horse, as we used to say in Texas, seems to be out of the barn," Lamberth said.
The judge did not say when he would rule on the government's request for an injunction.
The government argues that Bolton, the ex-national security advisor, violated secrecy laws because "The Room Where it Happened" did not get proper vetting.
Deputy assistant attorney general David Morrell said Bolton agreed not to publish a book with classified information "without written authorization."
"In exchange for money he has broken that promise," Morrell said. "He should not be rewarded."
Bolton's side argues for freedom of speech, saying that the manuscript was in fact put through extensive examination by the White House, which simply didn't like the contents.
- Trump 'pleading' with China -
The book is Bolton's portrait of Trump after seeing him up close for 17 months, before the former aide was ousted in September.
The picture -- which Trump says is "fiction" -- is ugly.
According to Bolton, a lifelong Republican who stands firmly on the right of the party, Trump is not "fit for office."
He describes Trump "pleading" with Chinese President Xi Jinping during trade negotiations to boost his chances of re-election this November.
And he claims that Trump, a real estate tycoon who never held office before winning the White House, was so ignorant that he thought Finland was part of Russia.
Bolton also backs up the allegations at the center of Trump's impeachment last year that he pressured Ukraine to try and dig up dirt to weaken his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.
Not only this, but Trump committed other "Ukraine-like transgressions" in his wielding of foreign policy for personal gain, Bolton alleges.
The sensationally blunt appraisal from someone who had that level of access has rocked the White House when the president is already mired in criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and race tensions.
Bolton finds himself shunned both by Republicans, who see him as a saboteur, and by Democrats, who blame him for not coming forward earlier -- particularly when he had a chance to testify in the impeachment.
The backlash from Trump loyalists and the president himself has been savage. The government could still seek to force Bolton to surrender proceeds or even file charges against him.
Trump called him "a sick puppy," a "boring fool" and a "washed-up guy."
"Said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him," he tweeted Wednesday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo branded Bolton "a traitor."
"John Bolton is spreading a number of lies, fully-spun half-truths and outright falsehoods," Pompeo said in a statement.
Former National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Donald Trump worked closely together but are now at war over Bolton's damning book