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On Thursday, Trump’s attorney Charles Harder sent an 11-page legal demand that alleges that Wolff’s inside look at White House dysfunction amounts to defamation, false light invasion of privacy and an inducement of breach of Steve Bannon’s written agreement with Trump’s presidential campaign. A full copy of the letter is embedded below. (Here’s a link if not visible.)
Wolff is a contributor to The Hollywood Reporter, and an advance excerpt of Fire and Fury ran in the publication as well as in New York magazine. The book has garnered much attention thanks to explosive quotes, including from Bannon, who called a Trump Tower meeting with Russians “unpatriotic” and “treasonous.” The book also recounts how Trump and his wife may not have really wanted to win the presidency, the ambitions of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and frustration by White House staffers in getting Trump to comprehend many of the matters before him.
The letter doesn’t detail which statements are untrue and potentially libelous, but it does seize upon the book’s introduction, which acknowledges that Wolff often got conflicting information and how he had to choose what to convey.
Here’s what Wolff wrote:
“Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”
And here’s how Trump’s legal demand frames this acknowledgement:
“Actual malice (reckless disregard for the truth) can be proven by the fact that the Book admits in the Introduction that it contains untrue statements,” states the letter. “Moreover, the Book appears to cite no sources for many of its most damaging statements about Mr. Trump. Also, many of your so-called ‘sources’ have stated publicly that they never spoke to Mr. Wolff and/or never made the statements that are being attributed to them. Other alleged ‘sources’ of statements about Mr. Trump are believed to have no personal knowledge of the facts upon which they are making statements or are known to be unreliable and/or strongly biased against Mr. Trump, or there are other obvious reasons to question their reliability, accuracy or claims to have knowledge of alleged facts upon which they are purporting to make statements.”
Given that there are public officials involved, a potential lawsuit would likely connect straight back to the Supreme Court’s landmark free speech decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which articulated that public figures must do more than show untruths in a defamation battle. To win a case, Trump would likely have to overcome other First Amendment hurdles. For instance, the objectionable statements will need to be factually disprovable rather than mere opinions or hyperbole.
As for Bannon’s agreement, which contained confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses and would surely be tested for enforceability should the dispute make its way into court, Trump is alleging that Bannon breached his obligations by speaking with Wolff.
In a column today, Wolff detailed how he gained access to the White House and how he asked Trump to be a fly on the wall for the purposes of a book. Was there consent?
“Trump seemed to say, knock yourself out,” writes Wolff. “Since the new White House was often uncertain about what the president meant or did not mean in any given utterance, his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to hang around.”
It’s demanded that Wolff and publishing house Henry Holt & Co. cease and desist from further publication of the book and any excerpts or summaries of the contents. Additionally, Trump wants an apology and a complete retraction. Wolff has been given no later than tomorrow to comply with the demand.
The book is currently No. 1 on Amazon.com’s list of best-sellers, and the legal demand will undoubtedly draw even more attention to what’s printed. In tapping Harder, Trump is going with the attorney who successfully sued Gawker Media over the Hulk Hogan sex tape and later represented Melania Trump in a defamation action against the Daily Mail. Trump is currently fighting a defamation lawsuit brought by a former Apprentice contestant and arguing that civil cases in state court shouldn’t proceed during his presidency. If he did sue over Michael Wolff’s book, it would be another unprecedented flout of convention from the nation’s leader.
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