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Justice Dept. is trying to 'intimidate' author of anonymous anti-Trump book, agents say

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New York (CNN Business)The Justice Department is going on the offensive against the anonymous author of "A Warning," telling them in a letter obtained by CNN Business that he or she may be violating "one or more nondisclosure agreements" by writing the anti-Trump book.

The author's publisher is rejecting the argument and saying the book will be released as scheduled.

And the author's agents are accusing the government of trying to unmask the author.

"Our author knows that the President is determined to unmask whistleblowers who may be in his midst. That's one of the reasons A WARNING was written," the literacy agency Javelin said in a statement. "But we support the publisher in its resolve that the administration's effort to intimidate and expose the senior official who has seen misconduct at the highest levels will not prevent this book from moving forward."

"A Warning" is set to come out on November 19, though it is likely to leak sooner. It is written by the same senior Trump administration official who was behind a 2018 New York Times op-ed expressing profound concern about the president's competence. Top editors at The Times said they knew the identity of the author, but granted the person anonymity to protect them from retaliation.

The person intends to remain anonymous, but knows that his or her identity may be unmasked during the book rollout.

"Elaborate precautions have been taken to protect the author's identity," a source told CNN's Jake Tapper when the book was announced last month.

But the president sought to expose the author of the op-ed last year. Trump accused the person of treason and the White House engaged in a furious hunt for the leaker.

Monday's letter from the Justice Department takes a different approach. It was delivered to Carol Ross, the top lawyer for Hachette Book Group, as well as Javelin agents Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn.

"If the author is, in fact, a current or former 'senior official' in the Trump Administration, publication of the book may violate that official's legal obligations under one or more nondisclosure agreements, including 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," assistant attorney general Joseph H. Hunt wrote in the letter.

"Such agreements typically require that any written work potentially containing protected information be submitted for pre-publication review," Hunt added.

The CIA, for example, has an extensive pre-publication review process. The DOJ recently sued Edward Snowden, who leaked American intelligence secrets to the press in 2013, for allegedly breaking decade-old contracts he signed with intelligence agencies by coming out with a book.

The government did not try to restrict the distribution of Snowden's book, titled "Permanent Record," but said it's owed royalties and payments from it.

Some lawyers have been fighting the government's rules about the review system, arguing that it is far too onerous and gives the government too much discretion.

"We request that you immediately provide us with your representations that the author did not sign any nondisclosure agreement and that the author did not have access to any classified information in connection with government service," Hunt's letter concluded. "If you cannot make those representations, we ask that you immediately provide either the nondisclosure agreements the author signed or the dates of the author's service and the agencies where the author was employed, so that we may determine the terms of the author's nondisclosure agreements and ensure that they have been followed."

Ross responded later on Monday morning and said, "we are in receipt of your letter this morning. I confirm that Hachette Book Group ('Hachette') will be publishing an important book by an anonymous individual who is a "current or former senior official" of the Trump Administration ('Anonymous'). Hachette is not party to any nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government that would require any pre-publication review of this book, and Hachette routinely relies on its authors to comply with any contractual obligations they may have. Hachette has, however, made a commitment of confidentiality to Anonymous and we intend to honor that commitment. Please be assured that Hachette takes its legal responsibilities seriously and, accordingly, Hachette respectfully declines to provide you with the information your letter seeks."

A Justice Department official said that the letter, from the head of the agency's civil division, was part of a fact-gathering process and that other similar requests had gone out to authors who'd worked for the government. The letter was not necessarily indicative of a looming lawsuit, the official said, just one step in a routine procedure.

None of this is expected to have any bearing on the scheduled release of the book.

Interest in "A Warning" has led to strong pre-order sales for the past couple of weeks. At times the book has been No. 1 on Amazon (AMZN)'s list of best selling books.