A warning to ‘A Warning’: Trump directs US Dept. of Justice to send threat letter to author

President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in October 2019 to issue a threatening letter to the anonymous author of a book titled A Warning. The move is in line with how Trump has directed his personal lawyers to take action against whistleblowers in the past, according to Techdirt. A Warning was released Nov. 19, 2019.

Key Players

The author of A Warning, purportedly a “senior official” in the Trump administration, has managed to remain anonymous despite The New York Times having run an op-ed by the same person in 2018. The author claims to be one of many Trump officials working in secret to thwart the president’s agenda from inside the White House, calling Trump’s leadership style “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.” A Warning is a book-length expose of the Trump administration, including details about a scrapped plan to orchestrate a mass resignation, or a “midnight self-massacre” to warn the public of the chaos inside the White House.

Joseph H. Hunt is the U.S. assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Division and author of the threat letter issued to the anonymous author. 

Further Details

Trump is no stranger to criticism, and nor are his critics unfamiliar with his pushback tactics. Trump had previously directed Charles Harder, one of his personal lawyers, to send a threatening letter to CNN promising to sue the network for biased and unfair reporting. 

Hunt ended up sending the October 2019 warning letter to Carol Ross, a lawyer at Hachette Book Group, the book’s publisher, and literary agents Matt Lattimer and Keith Urbahn. The letter alludes to potential violations of one or more nondisclosure agreements “that are routinely required with respect to information obtained in the course of one’s official responsibilities or as a condition for access to classified information.” As of Dec. 6, it was unknown whether the author had signed any such agreements. 

The DOJ official also requested that the publisher provide the dates of service and agencies where the author was employed, so as to “determine the terms of the author’s nondisclosure agreements and ensure that they have been followed,” CNN reports. This, according to the blog Techdirt, is an “obvious” attempt by the DOJ to learn the identity of the author.


PEN America condemns DOJ letter to publisher as “a new low”

In 2018, PEN America sued Trump for his repeated attempts to use his influence as president to intimidate and silence journalists. On Nov. 4, 2019, PEN’s CEO, Suzanne Nossel, condemned the Trump administration for attempting to intimidate the author of A Warning, noting that the notion of a violated nondisclosure agreement is “pure speculation.” 

A Warning receives mixed reviews upon release

Amy Davidson Sorkin of The New Yorker wrote that, at multiple points in the book, readers will “likely grow restless,” including over the author’s explanation for remaining anonymous. Most “tiresome” and discouraging, Sorkin writes, is the writer’s repeated acknowledgment that “having Administration officials act as silent babysitters doesn’t work.” Fox News, on the other hand, challenges readers to “withhold your reservations and read [the book] to the end.”