The Washington state man whose nonprofit lost a bid to gag Fox News on coronavirus coverage is seeking to join John Bolton as a defendant in President Trump’s effort to block his tell-all book from coming out.
Arthur West of Olympia, a leader of the watchdog group WASHLITE, filed a motion Friday morning to become an intervenor. He says the First Amendment gives him the right to obtain “The Room Where It Happened” by former National Security Adviser Bolton.
Hundreds of thousands of the books have been shipped, and the “horse is out of the barn,” the court heard Friday morning as the White House sought an injunction against the book. A Bolton lawyer called it a “surreal proceeding.”
In his overnight filing, West wrote that he has a “contract right and a 1st Amendment right to receive … the information at issue in this case that differs from defendant Bolton’s right to distribute the information as well as plaintiff United States’ interest in suppression of this political speech.”
He cited federal court rules that allow him to make the intervenor request.
West, 59, said he pre-ordered the book through Amazon, led by founder Jeff Bezos.
“Significantly neither Amazon, Bezos or Simon and Schuster, the publishers of the book, have been joined as parties,” West wrote in a nine-page motion. “Neither have any of the many other citizens of this Republic who have paid for and ordered this printed material.”
In a phone interview, West said the White House is trying to punish Bolton by aiming “to sequester the money” and interfere with book sales.
“Frankly, this administration in my view would be most happy if it could collect up all of those books and burn them in a pile,” he said.
West acknowledged that a right doesn’t exist to receive classified material, but said the vast bulk of the book isn’t classified.
“There might be sections that require removal,” he said, “but that’s not what they’re asking here. They’re asking for a blanket order prohibiting disclosure of the entire book.”
West, who is not a lawyer, calls himself an open-government advocate with over a dozen published cases on the state’s Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act in Washington state appellate courts.
West said he wrote all but a “couple paragraphs I stole from [law firm] Jones Day,” and began work on the brief about 10 p.m. Thursday in the breach-of-contract case.
“I sent it to the [D.C.] couriers at 5:05 a.m., went to sleep, and just woke up a few minutes ago,” he said Friday morning via email. “It cost $34 to have it filed and delivered to the loading dock so the judge would get the bench copy.”
He said he wasn’t aware of any potential monetary payout if his motion is granted and Bolton’s side won.
Why not file an amicus — “friend of the court” — brief instead as others have done?
“An amicus is supposed to be a non-party,” West told Times of San Diego via email. “If you actually have a dog in the fight, FRCP is proper.”
The motion wasn’t listed in the online court docket as of 11:30 a.m. Pacific, however.
“It was delivered in paper format today at about 9:45 Washington time,” West said. “A copy was delivered to the loading dock so [Judge Royce C. Lamberth] should have received it. For paper filed copies, it takes a couple days to get on the docket. Nonlawyers cannot use the E-filing system in D.C.”
In his nine-page brief, West wrote: “Any interest Bolton has in West’s receipt of his book is minimal and attenuated at best. Under such circumstances it is very unlikely that defendant Bolton shares or is inclined to pay his private counsel to adequately represent West’s interests, which differ substantially from his own.”
He added that nobody in the case is disposed to adequately represent West’s interests, which include a speedy resolution of issues in the case to allow the “most expeditious dissemination of the political speech in question.”
West — like friends of the court including several newspaper companies, the ACLU and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — argues against prior restraint.
“The value of this type of speech must be resolved through free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas — not through partisan and politically motivated litigation seeking to impose prior restraints on statements that, even after an overly zealous and thorough review are speciously alleged to be a threat to national security,” West wrote.
He cited the 1971 Pentagon Papers case among others as precedent to keep the government from blocking distribution of the Bolton book, whose contents have been widely reported.
“The absurdities and iniquities of allowing any official to impose prior restraints upon what a citizen can publish remain as convincing today as they were three and a half centuries ago,” West wrote.
On May 27, West and his Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics saw a Superior Court judge throw out his case against Fox Corp. That decision is under appeal.
Updated at 2:43 p.m. June 19, 2020