Trump Slams Book on him, Threatens Steve Bannon With Legal Action
Trump’s lawyer said he would try to stop the publication of a book in which Bannon has made “defamatory” comments.
President Donald Trump's lawyer said on Thursday, 4 January, that he would try to stop publication of a book that portrays an inept president in a fumbling White House and threatened legal action against former top aide Steve Bannon over "defamatory" comments in the book.
"Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" by author Michael Wolff set off a political firestorm with its portrayal of Trump as not particularly wanting to win the US presidency in 2016 and unprepared for the job.
Some of the harshest commentary came from Bannon, the right-wing firebrand who headed the final stage of Trump's campaign and became chief strategist at the White House before being fired in August.
Charles Harder, Trump’s personal lawyer, in a legal notice provided to Reuters, warned of possible claims including libel against Wolff and publisher Henry Holt & Co and threatened to try to block publication of the book. Harder also told Reuters that “legal action is imminent” against Bannon.
Henry Holt said in a statement it had received a cease-and-desist letter from Trump's attorney but would go ahead with publishing the book.
We see ‘Fire and Fury’ as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse, and are proceeding with the publication of the bookStatement by Holt
Holt on Thursday moved up the book's release to 5 January from the original publication date of 9 January.
Wolff did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump tweeted on Thursday night:
Trump cut ties with Bannon on Wednesday, saying his former adviser had "lost his mind," in a blistering statement issued after comments attributed to Bannon in the book were made public.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders scoffed at Bannon and the book at her briefing on Thursday. She said Breitbart News should consider firing Bannon and attempted to cast doubt on Wolff's accuracy.
She called the book "some trash" that came from "an author that no one had ever heard of until today." "This book is mistake after mistake after mistake," she said.
Bannon’s ‘Treasonous’ and ‘Unpatriotic’ Barb
Trump’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon on Wednesday asking him not to disclose any confidential information.
They said Bannon had breached an agreement by communicating with Wolff about Trump, his family and the campaign and made "disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements" about them.
In the book, Bannon was quoted as describing a June 2016 meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower in New York as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."
The meeting, held after the Russians promised damaging information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, was attended by Donald Trump Jr, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager at the time.
Trump's statement also diminished Bannon's role in the election victory and accused him of leaking to the media.
‘Changed His Tune’
Bannon's reaction to the book controversy has been muted. In interviews with Breitbart News after the news broke, he called Trump a "great man" and pledged continued support for the president's agenda.
The president took note.
He called me a great man last night so he obviously changed his tune pretty quick. I don’t talk to him. That’s a misnomer.Donald Trump to reporters on Thursday
Trump Lawsuit Over White House Book 'Nonstarter,' Legal Experts Say
According to legal experts, any lawsuits by President Donald Trump against former chief strategist Steve Bannon or the author and publisher of the book depicting a chaotic White House and Trump as out of his depth would almost certainly fail and could lead to more damaging disclosures.
Alan Dershowitz, an emeritus law professor at Harvard Law School, said a libel lawsuit by Trump would be a "terrible mistake" and "a nonstarter" that "no reasonable lawyer would recommend."
Some lawyers said Bannon, Wolff and the publisher could all argue that many of the comments in the book were opinions, which are protected by the First Amendment and cannot be the basis of a libel action.
Andrew Wright, a former associate counsel in the Obama White House and professor at Savannah Law School, said that would include Bannon's "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" quotes.
Bradley Moss, a Washington lawyer specializing in national security law, said any non-disclosure agreement would not apply to Bannon once he became a government employee. The government has far less power to limit speech by employees than private companies, Moss said.
Apart from facing long odds, a Trump libel lawsuit would also force the president to participate in an intrusive disclosure process.
Dershowitz said that defense lawyers would be able to subject Trump to “broad and far-ranging” depositions about “almost anything” and compel him to answer.
A lawsuit could hurt Trump because Bannon's lawyers would be entitled to interview White House officials and collect potentially damaging documents from them in his defense, Moss further said.
After Attacks by Trump, Bannon Finds Himself With Few Friends
Following his brutal disavowal by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon's dream of spearheading a new US political movement appears in tatters while the Republican establishment he challenged is feeling more secure.
Bannon appeared to have few close friends left among the more conservative factions of the Republican Party, which swiftly proclaimed their loyalty to Trump following the breakup.
I don’t know anyone in the conservative movement that’s supporting Steve over Donald Trump right now in this.Christopher Ruddy, close Trump ally to Reuters
Reader comments on Breitbart’s site seemed overwhelmingly supportive of the president compared with Bannon. The Wall Street Journal reported late on Thursday that the site’s board was considering letting him go.
Bannon's representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Following Trump’s attack, some of the candidates who had aligned themselves with Bannon's movement began stepping away, including Arizona US Senate hopeful Kelli Ward and New York congressional candidate Michael Grimm, who called the attacks against Trump’s family “baseless.”
(This article has been edited for length)
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