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Defense Department clears retired Navy officer's book about former Pentagon chief Mattis after facing lawsuit

Cmdr. Guy M. Snodgrass is shown in this Defense Department photograph in Japan in 2016.

MATTHEW C. DUNCKER/U.S. NAVY

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: September 12, 2019

WASHINGTON A forthcoming book about former defense secretary Jim Mattis' tenure at the Pentagon has been released from a security review and can be published, days after its author filed suit alleging that the Defense Department was blocking its publication.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass, who served as a speechwriter for Mattis for 17 months and retired in August 2018, wrote "Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis," and publisher Penguin Random House has billed it as an "insider's sometimes shocking account" of how Mattis operated as Pentagon chief "while serving as a crucial check on the Trump Administration."

The book has languished in a standard prepublication review for many months, as Pentagon officials scrutinized a manuscript to make sure it did not contain classified information. Snodgrass and his attorney, Mark Zaid, had alleged that some Defense Department officials had threatened to reduce his rank in retirement and that the officials claim that his obligations stretched beyond safeguarding classified information to other sensitive but legal areas.

The Pentagon shifted gears on Wednesday.

In a new letter provided to The Washington Post, George R. Sturgis Jr., chief of the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review, informed Snodgrass that his book was cleared, with some amendments to three chapters. The Pentagon confirmed the letter was legitimate, but otherwise declined to comment.

Zaid said that reviewers ultimately struck a few sentences from the book, "changed a few words" and included reasonable requests to redact "probably not classified" but sensitive information, such as the hotels where travel delegations stayed.

"With this victorious approval, the publisher is going to make every possible effort to publish the book by the original intended date," Zaid said. "This is the power of litigation."

The news of the book being cleared was first reported by Mother Jones.

Snodgrass had said in an affidavit filed in the case that his original publication date was Oct. 29 but that the delays would prevent that.

He also alleged that he reached out to Mattis to inform him about the book in March, about three months after the Pentagon chief resigned from his job while citing differences with Trump. Mattis responded in an email that he regretted Snodgrass appeared "to be violating the trust that permitted you as a member of my staff to be in private meetings in my office, where those of us carrying the responsibilities believed that all could speak openly in pre-decisional discussions."

The legal battle heated up as Mattis published his own book, "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead," in which he details his four-decade career as a Marine officer but mostly avoids passing judgment on Trump. He has said in several interviews that he will not make assessments of Trump's fitness in office while he is a sitting president, angering some critics.

Mattis, as a retired general, said it is important that he acts in an apolitical manner despite also holding an political appointment as Trump's defense secretary. At a Sept. 5 book event at the home of David Bradley, the publisher of the Atlantic magazine, Mattis told a room full of journalists, former public officials and retired military officers that if he weren't careful, he "could very easily be the one most damning" to the apolitical tradition he sought.

"I realize," Mattis joked, "how much I am disappointing people when I don't say, 'Let's go torch the White House.' "

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