UPDATE: 9/1/2012, 2:12 p.m. EDT. Information on Bissonnette’s legal counsel has been added to the 13th paragraph of this story.
In a letter sent late Thursday, Jeh Johnson—the former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison partner now serving as the U.S. Department of Defense’s general counsel—lashed out at former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette over the looming publication of Bissonette’s pseudonymously penned first-hand account about the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Dutton Penguin, an imprint of New York–based publishing giant Penguin Group, is set to publish the controversial book, No Easy Day, on September 4. Bissonette, who wrote the book about the secretive May 2011 raid into Pakistan under the pen name Mark Owen, has been making the media rounds since Fox News identified him as the author last week.
Bissonnette’s description of the events that unfolded the night that Navy SEALs killed the former al-Qaeda leader differs in several key respects from the official narrative put forth by the Obama administration and the Defense Department, according to advance copies of his book obtained by several news sources. (Among the most notable differences: Bissonette says bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was killed.) 
The Defense Department, which was not provided with a prepublication copy of the No Easy Day manuscript to review for national security purposes, initially remained quiet about Bissonnette’s version of events. But in the letter sent Thursday, Johnson informed the 36-year-old Alaska native that writing the book had put him in violation of a 2007 nondisclosure agreement he signed with the Navy, despite the fact that Bissonnette has since left active duty. ( Click here for Johnson’s letter, courtesy of NPR.) 
“In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed,” Johnson writes. “Further public dissemination of your book will aggravate your breach and violation of your agreements.”
Given that the book’s topic is one of the defining events of President Barack Obama’s four years in office and that its publication comes as Obama seeks a second four-year term, No Easy Day has quickly stirred political controversy—something to which Johnson, who served as general counsel of the U.S. Air Force during the Clinton administration, is not a stranger.
In 2010 the former Paul Weiss litigation partner was tapped by the Pentagon to lead the Defense Department’s internal review of its “don‚’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring openly gay individuals from serving in the military, according to our previous reports. (That policy was officially repealed by the Obama administration last year.)
Johnson, who earned $2.6 million in his last year at Paul Weiss before becoming the Pentagon’s top lawyer in 2009, is a longtime Obama supporter. He raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for the then–U.S. senator from Illinois during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to a 2007 story in The New York Times. Now, as the Defense Department’s legal chief, Johnson is tasked with potentially pursing legal action against Bissonnette and Penguin over the publication of No Easy Day.
Penguin has claimed publicly that a lawyer who once served as a special operations soldier vetted No Easy Day to ensure that it did not contain tactical information that could be used against the United States by its enemies. But the identity of that lawyer has yet to be disclosed and lawyers at Penguin weren’t talking Friday.
Alexander Gigante, general counsel for Penguin, and Robert Dancy, group legal counsel for the publisher’s London-based parent company Pearson, were both out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment. A Penguin spokeswoman also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Marjorie Scardino, who began her career as a lawyer in Savannah before becoming Pearson’s CEO in 1997, also did not return an email requesting information on the identity of the lawyer who vetted Bissonette’s book or whether the media giant has engaged outside counsel to deal with the Pentagon’s threat of legal action against its subsidiary.
The Am Law Daily reached out to five Am Law 100 firms that have handled previous matters for Penguin— Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, Davis Wright Tremaine, Dorsey & Whitney, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher—but only Akin Gump and Dorsey responded immediately to say they are not representing the publisher in connection with the federal government’s issue over No Easy Day‘s publication.
One lawyer that did respond to Johnson’s threat was Patton Boggs litigation partner Robert Luskin, who most recently was one of several high-priced attorneys representing former professional road cyclist Lance Armstrong. Now representing Bissonnette, Luskin told Johnson in a sternly worded letter sent to the Pentagon’s top lawyer on Friday that his client had ”faithfully fulfilled his duty” and sought the appropriate legal counsel in determining that No Easy Day was not subject to the nondisclosure agreement, according to copies of the letter obtained by CNNReuters, and The Times.
Last year, a former covert CIA officer writing under the pen name Ishmael Jones lost a suit the Justice Department filed on behalf of the spy agency over his 2008 book The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture. A federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that Jones had not gone through the proper protocols and obtained necessary approvals from his former employer prior to that book’s publication.
On April 18, U.S. District Judge Gerald Lee ruled ruled that Jones must forfeit future proceeds from his book to the federal government. (Laurin Mills, a partner at LeClairRyan in Alexandria, Virginia, who represented Jones in that case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
It remains unclear whether Bissonnette will face a similar fate. If so, the former Navy SEAL will likely have to part ways with a significant sum of cash. Originally set to hit stores on September 11, No Easy Day had its publication date moved up and its initial print run increased from 300,000 to 575,000 copies due to high demand.
Pre-orders have already vaulted the book to the top of Amazon.com’s best-seller list, and Bissonnette himself is scheduled to appear on CBS’s 60 Minutes this Sunday as he continues to drum up publicity for his first-person account of the events surrounding bin Laden’s demise.