The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether President Trump’s former national security adviser John R. Bolton unlawfully disclosed classified information when he published a memoir this summer, a case that the department opened after it failed to stop the book’s publication, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The department has convened a grand jury and subpoenaed for communications records from Simon & Schuster, which in June published Mr. Bolton’s memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” a highly unflattering account of his 17 months working in the Trump administration.
The investigation marks a significant escalation in the fraught publication of the book. The Trump administration had sought earlier to stop publication, accusing Mr. Bolton in a lawsuit of moving forward with publication without receiving final notice that a pre-publication review to scrub out classified information was complete. The director of national intelligence referred the matter to the Justice Department last month, two of the people said.
Mr. Bolton has denied that he published classified information. Representatives for the Justice Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Council declined to comment.
Mr. Bolton’s account of his time working for Mr. Trump and his efforts to get the book published set off a furor, and the president has made clear, particularly on Twitter, that he wants his former aide prosecuted.
Lawyers for the National Security Council and the Justice Department expressed reservations about opening a criminal case, in part because Mr. Trump’s public statements made it seem like an overtly political act, according to two officials briefed on the discussions. Others noted that a federal judge this summer said that Mr. Bolton may have broken the law, and that the case had merit.