The article in question, i.e., the one I'm recommending that you read, is long, detailed, and steeped in legal niceties. It's also very enjoyable:
NEED TO KNOW
If you can be prosecuted for keeping a classified document in your garage, you can be prosecuted for giving it to your lawyer.
We all know that John Bolton, being John Bolton, wanted to strike at the man who fired him--Donald J. Trump, who just happens to be the POTUS. Bolton's idea was to write a book that would embarrass Trump. According to the author of this article, Kel McClanahan
the executive director of National Security Counselors and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Law School, where he teaches Law of Secrecy
that scheme may have gone very seriously awry with the publication of an op-ed in the WSJ by Bolton's lawyer. Here's how the article starts out, providing the background:
John Bolton, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, wanted to write a book. He knew that the White House would do everything it could to stop him. He hired a flashy white-shoe law firm to handle the prepublication review process required by the nondisclosure agreement he signed when he got his security clearance. As expected, the White House weaponized the prepublication review process against him to keep him from publishing. If he published without approval, it said, he could face severe legal consequences.
Then his lawyer, Chuck Cooper, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week intended to put public pressure on the White House. In it, Cooper volunteered that Bolton had violated both his NDA and perhaps a few criminal laws, including the Espionage Act. Now, even if Bolton’s book is never released, he is facing stiff penalties. As unforced legal errors go, that’s a doozy.
Here are the two sentences that could cost Bolton a big stack of money, or worse: “He instructed me, as his lawyer, to submit the manuscript to Ellen Knight, the NSC’s senior director for prepublication review of materials written by NSC personnel. I sent Ms. Knight the manuscript on Dec. 30, days after the House had impeached the president and amid speculation that the Senate would subpoena Mr. Bolton to testify.”
See a problem here? If not, McClanahan explains:
See, here’s the thing about prepublication review: “Publication” means giving potentially classified information to anyone the government has not approved to receive it. Bolton and his lawyer committed one of the classic blunders that a national-security lawyer would have seen coming a mile away. Simply put, someone who has signed an NDA and received a clearance has to put anything they want to write through prepublication review before they can give it to anyone. Even their lawyer.
Lawyers who represent intelligence personnel drill this into clients at the very beginning. I regularly have my clients—especially the whistleblowers—write everything they want to tell me and send it to the prepublication review office before they tell me a single word of it. It’s a major hassle, and sometimes it alerts the agency that a lawyer is involved, but it keeps them from losing their clearances or their freedom. Some agencies—like the Central Intelligence Agency—will outright refuse to even discuss a prepublication review matter with anyone but the author, let alone allow the lawyer to submit the document.
The reason for this is simple. To an intelligence professional, there is little distinction between giving classified information to the general public and giving it to your priest. Once classified information is known by someone the government cannot control, it is in the wild and the assumption must be that it will be further disseminated. A security breach is a security breach. A television audience and a private lawyer are equally unauthorized to receive the information. It is why former CIA Director David Petraeus pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information simply because he gave it to his biographer.
McClanahan goes on at some length to rebut every conceivable defense that Bolton might come up with. He concludes that Bolton is almost 100% screwed no matter what. As for me, I'd say it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
It appears that Bolton's most fundamental mistake--and one he of all people should have been immunized to--was to trust himself to the services of a "white shoe" law firm. Michael Flynn could have warned him about that.