Over the last few years, the Knight Institute and the ACLU have obtained (through FOIA litigation) thousands of documents relating to prepublication review. We released many of those documents last April. Since then, we’ve obtained many more and have released them on a rolling basis. The documents include correspondence in which authors—including Michael Hayden, Michael Morrell, and Leon Panetta—negotiate with various agencies over the review of specific manuscripts. Our entire database of records relating to prepublication review, including the records we’ve released over the last several months, is here.
The most recent set of documents includes emails and other correspondence in which senior officials ask agencies to afford them special treatment in the review process, and some documents in which agencies appear to grant those requests. For example, Leon Panetta, the former CIA director, asked the agency (through a staffer) to review Panetta’s book quickly, emphasizing that the book was “not an expose of CIA” but rather a “work of history by a former Director, who lauds and praises the Agency.” The tactic appears to have worked. Panetta’s staffer later thanked the board for “moving mountains” to finalize approval of the book. Other former senior officials appear to have sought to use their stature to avoid the delays and frustrations that other authors often experience. (See, for example, these documents relating to Michael Morrell and Michael Hayden [here and here].)
These documents seem consistent with a broader pattern we describe in our pending constitutional challenge: the government reviews manuscripts of former senior officials more quickly, and more sympathetically, especially when the manuscripts cast the agencies in a favorable light. Documents we released last year showed that James Comey, the former FBI director, received a green light for his book manuscript within seven weeks of submission. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a green light within eight weeks.
We will publish a complete analysis of the documents soon. In the meantime, while the new documents are certainly relevant to our ongoing constitutional challenge, they may also be of interest to anyone following the clash between John Bolton and White House censors currently reviewing his memoir—a clash we have written about here, here, and here.
Meenakshi Krishnan was a 2019-2020 Legal Fellow at the Knight Institute.