Just before his first press conference of the New Year Wednesday, President Donald Trump held a Cabinet meeting and vowed to take a “strong look” at the nation’s libel laws, which some media outlets are reporting is the result of push back from lawyers of Michael Wolff, author of the new book causing a shakeup on Capitol Hill, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
Pres. Trump says he plans to "take a strong look" at libel laws: "You can't say things that are knowingly false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account." https://t.co/HEbl07QEDo pic.twitter.com/zR3Vx0Gc8V
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 10, 2018
In a letter to author Michael Wolff and publisher Henry Holt and Company last week, Trump’s lawyer Charles Harder called for a stop to the publication of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Harder wrote that he was “investigating numerous false and/or baseless statements” about the president contained within the book, and that the text further included defamatory statements and could be considered an “invasion of privacy.”
In response Monday, counsel for Henry Holt and Company wrote to Harder that there is “no reason to doubt… that Mr. Wolff’s book is an accurate report on events of vital public importance” and that Harder’s letter “provides no reason to change this conclusion.”
Additionally, Henry Holt and Company, via their attorneys, indicated that they did not feel the book was libelous and they would not be issuing any retractions.
The White House released their official transcript Trump’s remarks from the Cabinet meeting. The portion dealing with libel are below:
On a separate front, we are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts. If somebody says something that’s totally false and knowingly false, that the person that has been abused, defamed, libeled will have meaningful recourse.
Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace, and do not represent American values or American fairness. So we’re going to take a strong look at that. We want fairness. You can’t say things that are false — knowingly false — and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account. We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the American people want to see is fairness.
This is not the first time the president has mentioned reviewing libel laws, issuing a similar call during his campaign in 2016. While that does reduce the likelihood that this latest call is directly related Wolff’s book, many news outlets that have found themselves in the president’s crosshairs are worried it indicates a lack of commitment to free speech and freedom of the press.
CNN Money’s piece on the issue declared that Trump’s vocal exhortations of the media are “all related because they’re a reflection of Trump’s rising anger at news coverage of his presidency. But it’s the legal comments and actions that stand out — because it’s incredibly unusual to see a political leader acting this way and it demonstrates a lack of respect for the free press.”
While it’s an easy assumption that Trump’s renewed interest in libel laws are the result of Wolff’s book, there’s another bit of writing currently out there that may be of more interest to the president when it comes to ensuring its author be held liable for its contents: The Steele Dossier.
No word yet on how Trump plans on tackling libel laws, but the issue’s inclusion in the Cabinet meeting Wednesday is a sure sign it’s on the 2018 agenda.