Donald Trump has a curious habit of threatening lawsuits. FiveThirtyEight counted the number of times during the 2016 presidential campaign that the Republican threatened to sue various people or organizations, and found 20 separate incidents – including the time Trump vowed to sue the women who accused him of sexual misconduct once the election was over.
The threats have been less common now that Trump is president, though this week is proving to be an exception. Yesterday, the president’s lawyers sent a “cease and desist” letter to Steve Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, and NBC News reports today on a new effort today.
President Donald Trump’s lawyers are expanding their crusade against a new book that gives a behind-the-scenes account of the White House.
In a letter sent Thursday to “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff and his publisher, Trump attorney Charles Harder demanded that the book, which reached No. 1 on the Amazon best-seller list Wednesday, not be published or disseminated. A copy of the letter obtained by NBC News cites defamation, libel and “actual malice” among the alleged wrongdoings in the book, which is due to be released on Tuesday.
As a legal matter, it’s difficult to imagine the book’s publisher and author backing down in the face of this threat. As a practical matter, I’m not sure it matters: the book has already reached quite a few major news organizations, which have highlighted excerpts for the public.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget that Trump World gave quite a bit of access to Michael Wolff himself, who was in the White House many times while collecting material for his bestseller.
But even putting all of this aside, presidents don’t generally try to block publication of books that criticize them – at least not in this country.
As Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum noted, if the courts wouldn’t let Nixon block publication of the Pentagon Papers, Trump’s lawyers are kidding themselves if they think they can stand in the way of “Fire and Fury.”
It’s a safe bet the president’s attorneys know this. It’s why I can’t help but wonder if they sent these letters because their intemperate client demanded this move, without any meaningful regard for whether it makes sense.