President Trump’s attorney, Charles Harder, has been the busy bee sending out multiple cease and desist letters. Trump is trying to stop the release of the book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House which has disparaging statements about the president. The book quotes Steve Bannon as he discussed a July 2016 meeting between Russian officials, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Bannon describes the meeting as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” Of course, the president awarded his first cease and desist letter to Bannon. Author Michael Wolff and publisher Henry Holt were the recipients of the second cease and desist letter.
In the letters, Trump attorney accused Bannon of defamation of libel and slander. Trump also accused Bannon of violating his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement. It’s no secret that Trump makes his staff sign agreements to not publicly disparage him. As a businessman, Trump utilized such agreements heavily and as a president, he continues to do so.
The Washington Post previously asked Trump whether he will make his federal government staff sign nondisclosure agreements. He stated, “I think they should. When people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that. I mean, I’ll be honest. And people would say, oh, that’s terrible, you’re taking away his right to free speech. . . . I would say . . . I do have nondisclosure deals.”
Will all this go anywhere?
It is unlikely that Trump will file suit for defamation against Bannon and the book may go forward. Look at all the attention this book is getting. Had Trump ignored it, many people probably wouldn’t know it exists. Sure, some articles would discuss its contents but not as much as they are doing now. In fact, the publisher is now rushing the book onto bookshelves days before it was set to be published. “Due to unprecedented demand, we are moving the on-sale date for all formats of Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, to Friday, January 5, at 9 a.m. ET, from the current on-sale date of Tuesday, January 9,” a spokeswoman for the publisher told CNN on Thursday afternoon.
Author Michael Wolff continues to troll President Trump on Twitter.
Here we go. You can buy it (and read it) tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. President.
— Michael Wolff (@MichaelWolffNYC) January 4, 2018
Update: Wolff gives interview on “The Today Show”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 5, 2018
What is a cease and desist letter?
The purpose of a cease and desist letter is usually to intimidate, scare, or settle issues without going to court. On their own, the letters hold no legal power and no one has to follow them. Trump would have to file paperwork in court to get what he wants. As a result, “discovery” would ensue. Discovery is the process in a lawsuit that requires disclosure of relevant documents. In order to sue for defamation, the statements made by Bannon would have to be false and made with actual malice. Proving whether the statements are false is something critics of the President would love to see. Reports indicate that Wolff taped many of his interviews with Bannon, all of which may come out during discovery.
Not to mention according to research performed by FiveThirtyEight, of the more than 20 times President Trump threatened a lawsuit, he only sued twice. With the earlier book launch date, it appears the publisher welcomes the challenge.
Finally, it is easier to prove defamation for a private citizen with a private concern. A public figure will have a much harder time silencing someone when the matter is of public concern. Defamation cases are already difficult to win but couple that with statements that are of public concern and you have an uphill battle. Let’s watch closely to how this all unfolds.