Trump Demands That Publisher Halt Release of Critical Book

January 4, 2018 8:59 pm

President Trump escalated his attack on a new book  portraying him as a volatile and ill-equipped chief executive on Thursday as his legal team demanded that the author and publisher halt its release and apologize or face a possible lawsuit.

In an 11-page letter, the president’s lawyer said the book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, as excerpted in a magazine article, includes false statements about Mr. Trump that “give rise to claims for libel” that could result in “substantial monetary damages and punitive damages.”

“Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book, the article, or any excerpts or summaries of either of them, to any person or entity, and that you issue a full and complete retraction and apology to my client as to all statements made about him in the book and article that lack competent evidentiary support,” the letter said.

The book, which is scheduled to be released next week, angered Mr. Trump in part by quoting Stephen K. Bannon, his former White House chief strategist, making derogatory comments about the president’s children. Mr. Bannon was quoted as saying that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign and that Ivanka Trump was “dumb as a brick.” Mr. Trump fired back, saying that Mr. Bannon had “lost his mind” and had “nothing to do with me or my presidency.”

Mr. Bannon, who had stayed in touch with Mr. Trump sporadically after being pushed out of the White House last summer, sought to smooth over the rift during his Breitbart News radio show on Wednesday night.

When a caller said that Mr. Trump had “made a huge mistake, Steve, bashing you like he did,” Mr. Bannon brushed it aside. “The president of the United States is a great man,” Mr. Bannon said. “You know I support him day in and day out, whether going through the country giving the ‘Trump Miracle’ speech or on the show or on the website.”

He assured another caller that Mr. Trump was still fighting for their shared cause. “Maybe things get off track, or stuff gets said, and all this heated stuff, but however, this is a guy, you voted for him, you supported him,” he said. “Is there any doubt in your mind he’s been fighting for and working for you, the deplorables, the forgotten man and woman, the silent majority, every day he’s been there?”

The president cited those comments on Thursday when asked by reporters if Mr. Bannon had betrayed him. “I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said. “He called me a great man last night so, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.”

Asked why he had kept talking to Mr. Bannon, Mr. Trump said: “I don’t talk to him, I don’t talk to him, that’s just a misnomer.”

The letter to the publisher was sent by Charles J. Harder, a prominent libel lawyer based in Beverly Hills, Calif., to Mr. Wolff and Steve Rubin, the president and publisher of Henry Holt & Co. It follows a similar cease-and-desist letter sent by Mr. Harder on Wednesday night to Mr. Bannon.

While other presidents have avoided direct confrontations with publishers over unflattering books in part out of fear of giving them more publicity and promoting sales, Mr. Trump is furious about Mr. Wolff’s account and unwilling to let it go, according to advisers. Through a long career in real estate and entertainment, Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened lawsuits against authors, journalists and others who angered him, but often has not followed through, and it was unclear whether he would in this case.

Mr. Wolff did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but on Wednesday night he said by email that he was “wholly comfortable with my numerous sources.” His editor, John Sterling, said by email on Thursday, “We haven’t yet responded to the letter.”

The book, which quickly shot up to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list following articles about it on Wednesday, presents Mr. Trump as an unengaged candidate and president who grew bored when an aide tried to explain the Constitution to him and refuses to read even one-page briefing papers.

President Trump’s legal team on Thursday demanded that the publisher of Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which is critical of the administration, halt its release and apologize or face legal action.
Jan. 4, 2018
Various advisers to the president are reported to have called him an “idiot,” a “dope” or “dumb” as dirt. And Melania Trump, the president’s wife, is described as being so unhappy about the prospect of life in the White House that she was in tears on election night.

In separate statements, the White House on Wednesday called the book “trashy tabloid fiction” that is “filled with false and misleading accounts,” and Mrs. Trump disputed the characterizations of her views.

Mr. Trump often reconciles with associates after feuds, but for the moment there was no love lost for Mr. Bannon in the president’s household.

“Steve had the honor of working in the White House & serving the country,” Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter. “Unfortunately, he squandered that privilege & turned that opportunity into a nightmare of backstabbing, harassing, leaking, lying & undermining the President. Steve is not a strategist, he is an opportunist.”

Other advisers to Mr. Trump seemed relieved to be able to say good riddance to Mr. Bannon, whose acerbic approach alienated many in the president’s circle. Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media, a rival conservative website, and a friend of Mr. Trump’s, said Mr. Bannon was a late arrival to Mr. Trump’s campaign and was never as important as he made out — and was now trying to settle scores.

“The truth is Steve Bannon represents just a small fraction of the Republican Party, folks who champion protectionism, isolationism and nativism,” Mr. Ruddy wrote. “If you believe the media spin, he also elected Donald Trump. But the truth is quite different: Trump elected Trump.”

Mr. Harder, the president’s lawyer, has represented Melania Trump and other high-profile figures in libel and defamation cases, including actors like Jude Law, Reese Witherspoon and Clint Eastwood and media figures like Roger Ailes, the late Fox News impresario. He won Hulk Hogan’s landmark invasion-of-privacy case against Gawker Media, a lawsuit that was secretly financed by Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and resulted in the shuttering of

Until recently, Mr. Harder represented Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul, and threatened to sue The New York Times over an article documenting sexual harassment. But Mr. Harder no longer represents Mr. Weinstein, and no lawsuit has been filed.

In his letter to Mr. Wolff and his publisher, Mr. Harder said the book itself admits “that it contains untrue statements.” In an author’s note, Mr. Wolff writes that many of the accounts that he collected “are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue.” He said he sometimes “let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them,” and in other instances “settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”

Mr. Harder argued that that proves actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth, standards that courts use to judge whether a public person has been libeled. The lawyer wrote that the book “appears to cite no sources for many of its most damaging statements about Mr. Trump” and that some sources “have stated publicly that they never spoke to Mr. Wolff” or made statements attributed to them.

“Other alleged ‘sources’ of statements about Mr. Trump,” he added, “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.”

Mr. Harder cited no specific statements that he judged untrue. But some people cited in the book have disputed episodes describing them. The book reports, for instance, that suspicions that the British had spied on Mr. Trump’s campaign to curry favor with President Barack Obama were fueled by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.

Mr. Blair met with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, in February and suggested “the possibility that the British had had the Trump campaign staff under surveillance.” The book says “it was unclear whether Blair’s information was rumor, informed conjecture, his own speculation, or solid stuff,” but Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bannon took it seriously enough to drive out to the C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia to ask. The C.I.A. later reported back that it was a “miscommunication.”

Mr. Blair denied the account on Thursday. “This story, as we have pointed out, is a complete fabrication,” he told BBC Radio 4. “I mean literally, from beginning to end. I’ve never had such conversations, in the White House, outside the White House, with Jared Kushner, with anybody else.” (New York Times)

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