In an unprecedented move, Trump wants to stop publication of a book - a memoir written by his former national security advisor.
In another era, it could have been quite a controversy for a sitting president of the United States to threaten an author with a lawsuit for writing a book. But stranger things have happened with Donald Trump at the helm of the White House.
Still, what he’s indicated he might do is unprecedented.
The Room Where It Happened, a tell-all memoir by John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor, is set to be released on June 23.
According to some reports, it will carry details about Trump’s handling of US foreign policy including ties with Russia and China.
But more damningly for the president, it might reveal how Trump used foreign aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.
"This is the book Donald Trump doesn’t want you to read," Simon and Schuster, the publisher, has said in its promotional pitch.
Germany walked the same line in the recent past by blocking the memoir of a former spy chief.
Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, on Monday threatened legal action if the 592-page book comes out before a pre-publication review by various government agencies, which reviews such work for classified information.
One of many firsts
Bolton, who worked for the Trump administration between April 2018 and 2019, has already been on a media tour to promote the upcoming book. He has also recorded an interview with a TV channel and some reporters might have gotten hold of copies.
Simon and Schuster says it has shipped copies to warehouses across the US.
For a sitting US president to go after someone who has written a book critical of him is unheard of in the US, which gives strong constitutional protection to freedom of speech.
As Authors Guild President Douglas Preston says, “Our founders believed that vigorous and free debate from all sides was vital to our democracy, and they enshrined that conviction in the Constitution. The administration’s effort to quash debate, censor books and punish political views it doesn’t like is profoundly un-American.”
Yet, this won’t be the first time Trump has tried to impede the publication of a book.
In 2018, his lawyers threatened to take action against Martin Wolfe who wrote Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
Even though the US has a history of banning books, which include classics ranging from "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee to Kurt Vonnnegut’s "Slaughterhouse-Five," it’s rare for the president to jump into the censorship fray.
No prior president has tried to sue a writer for libel. And Trump is not even open to criticism from journalists.
Earlier this year, Trump earned the infamy of becoming the first sitting president to bring a defamation lawsuit against a news organisation.
His election campaign filed an appeal before the New York State Supreme Court against The New York Times for an opinion article which spoke about Trump’s relationship with Russia during the 2016 election.
Since then, his campaign has also gone after The Washington Post and CNN with libel suits, claiming the organisations are trying to influence results of the elections slated for later this year.
Bolton is no hero
The Washington Post has reported that Trump has called Bolton a “traitor” in private conversations and asked him not to publish the book before elections.
During his time as the national security advisor, Bolton had vigorously pushed for military interventions against American rivals. His hawkish views on foreign policy were often seen as dragging Washington deeper into costly wars.
Bolton had a falling out with Trump in September and he soon announced that he was writing a book.
For some, Bolton has shown courage by writing the book as he has alienated Republican allies and will likely lose the income from book sales.
At the same time, he faces criticism for not coming forward to testify during the impeachment proceedings against Trump and withholding key information that he is now evidently going to reveal in his upcoming book.
The book has already faced multiple roadblocks as the Trump administration is using national security concerns to redact parts of the story.
Officials responsible for censoring classified details are still reviewing the book and will hand a final copy on June 19, just days before the publication.
If the book is published without official authorisation then the US government reserves the right to keep the income from the book’s sales as has happened before in similar cases.
Bolton’s manuscript was submitted to the NSC for vetting on December 30 and the book launch has been delayed several times.
Whatever Bolton’s shortcomings, he has a right to publish a work that’s critical of the president.
“But for Trump, the First Amendment is always about putting his own interests 'first'", Brian Stelter wrote for CNN.