Ex-Mattis aide sues Pentagon over delayed memoir

A top aide to former Defense Secretary James Mattis sued the Pentagon this week, claiming the Defense Department deliberately delayed the publication of a book detailing his time in the Trump administration so that Mattis’ own memoir can be released first.

Guy Snodgrass, a former Navy pilot who served as Mattis’ communications director and chief speechwriter, claims the Defense Department is “obstructing and infringing” of his First Amendment rights by “intentionally” withholding final classification approval for his manuscript titled: “Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis.”

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Snodgrass says the Defense Department office that screens books set for publication has slow-walked his manuscript, demanded the author redact entire chapters, and threatened him with retaliation for violating an unspoken loyalty oath to Mattis.

“This obstructive delay by the Defense Department has gone on long enough and needs to come to an end,” Bradley Moss, a lawyer for Snodgrass, told CNN.

“The First Amendment rights of Mr. Snodgrass are no less significant than those of Mr. Mattis, and with this lawsuit we intend to ensure Mr. Snodgrass can lawfully tell his story about what he observed during his service just like Mr. Mattis is about to do,” he said.

The complaint cited “numerous sources” inside the Pentagon who say defense officials withheld final approval for the book so that Mattis’ book could hit bookstore shelves first. CNN has not been able to independently verify this claim.

It also says the delay was done “with the acquiescence, if not complicity of” Mattis.

Lawyers for Snodgrass filed the complaint early Thursday morning, hours after The Wall Street Journal published an essay adapted from Mattis’ book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.”

The forthcoming 320-page account from Mattis already ranks third on Amazon’s bestseller list days ahead of its scheduled September 3 release date.

In the filing, Snodgrass’ attorneys said the book’s publication date, originally slated for October 29, will be moved back.

The complaint frames “Holding the Line” as a “testament” to Mattis’ “quiet and steady efforts” to lead the Pentagon, but says little about the book’s actual content. Lawyers wrote Snodgrass’ insider account includes how the author, Mattis, and other staff members “reacted to various administration and international issues.”

What events the books retells remains closely guarded inside the Pentagon. Snodgrass’ attorneys said they have not seen their client’s manuscript, as is typical in the classification review process.

But the book has provoked warnings from Defense Department’s General Counsel, and admonitions from other department lawyers about breaching a “duty to protect the confidences of Secretary Mattis.”

Mattis, according to the complaint, wrote Snodgrass in a March email, expressing dismay that the author “appear[s] to be violating the trust” of senior Pentagon officials to keep private deliberations private.

Lawyers, in the filing, said Mattis “hypocritically contains his recollection of private and official conversations” in his own book, “in violation of the very loyalty and trust he sought to impose upon Snodgrass.”

The complaint also describes an unusual back-and-forth between Snodgrass and Defense officials in the Pentagon’s classification office that indicates an abrupt shift in tone in discussions about the manuscript.

According to the suit, the Pentagon’s classification office notified Snodgrass on August 20 that he would soon receive a clearance letter, greenlighting the book for publication.

Days later, the same office informed Snodgrass he would not receive clearance and that any decision on his book would depend on “the outcome of high-level discussions.”

Defense officials also told Snodgrass his manuscript contained no classified information in a June phone call, according to the complaint, but continue to demand the author black-out chunks of the book, including any mentions of “The Tank,” the secure meeting room in the Pentagon where military leaders make highly sensitive decisions.

Mattis’ publisher did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Pentagon spokesperson Col. DeDe Halfhill told CNN that “we do not comment on pending litigation.”

In interviews this week, Mattis has hinted at the tension between giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the daily deliberations in President Donald Trump’s Pentagon and fulfilling what he calls a “duty of silence” to the administration he left.

“You don’t endanger the country by attacking the elected commander-in-chief,” Mattis told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

“I may not like a commander in chief one fricking bit, but our system puts the commander in chief there, and to further weaken him when we’re up against real threats — I mean, we could be at war on the Korean Peninsula, every time they start launching something,” he said.

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.