Firestorm Over Fire And Fury Book

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Katy Tur has a warning:

That is good to keep in mind.  However, that is not preventing Trump’s lawyers from threatening litigation.

They have issued cease and desist letters to Steve Bannon, as well as Michael Wolff (the author) and the book’s publisher (see below).

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The letter to Bannon says that Bannon violated an non-disclosure agreement as part of his employment contract.  It’s a stupid thing to do. A cease and desist letter really has no value — it is used to scare people who can’t afford to be sued. Bannon is a man of means — this will not scare him.

Nor should it. Trump is a public figure. Suing for defamation, as the letter threatens, could require Trump to prove that a statement made by Bannon was false, damaging and delivered with actual malice, meaning that Bannon knew his comments were false and made them anyway.

Suing Bannon for breaking an employment contract would be even more problematic.  To say that Bannon breached a contract sends a signal that there’s some truth there in what he’s saying.

Bannon’s speech stemming from his time in the White House would probably be protected. A government employee’s free-speech rights are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment insofar as they pertain to matters of public concern, the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 in a case called Garcetti v. Ceballos. The behavior of the president — and especially his campaign’s involvement with the Russians — are undoubtedly a matter of public concern.

Then there’s The Defend Trade Secrets Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016, provides immunity to whistleblower employees who report suspected illegal activity. That might or might not apply to Bannon. But either way, his lawyers would argue that it did.

So Bannon is in the clear and the letter sent out is, no doubt, to appease an angry Trump who likely insisted on it.

Trump’s claims in his lawyers’ letter to Wolff and the publisher are even more meritless. He is claiming “defamation by libel”.  It is not clear what claims in the book he is referring to.  But in any event, Trump really does not want to depositions taken from everybody mentioned in the book, so they can repeat their claims — and possibly new ones — under oath.  Besides, Trump is a public figure.  Good luck with that.

Oh, and according to Axios:

Michael Wolff has tapes to back up quotes in his incendiary book — dozens of hours of them.

Among the sources he taped, I’m told, are Steve Bannon and former White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh.

So that’s going to make it harder for officials to deny embarrassing or revealing quotes attributed to them in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” out Tuesday.

In some cases, the officials thought they were talking off the record. But what are they going to do now?

Although the White House yesterday portrayed Wolff as a poseur, he spent hours at a time in private areas of the West Wing, including the office of Reince Priebus when he was chief of staff.

The White House says Wolff was cleared for access to the West Wing fewer than 20 times.

Wolff, a New Yorker, stayed at the Hay Adams Hotel when he came down to D.C., and White House sources frequently crossed Lafayette Park to meet him there.

By the way, 20 times in the West Wing is a LOT.

What has Trump so livid? Here are key excerpts from the 322-page book, obtained by Axios:

  • On the the July 8 preparation aboard Air Force One of the initial (and false) explanation about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the campaign, made under Trump’s personal direction: “Ivanka, according to the later recollection of her team, would shortly leave the meeting, take a pill, and go to sleep. Jared, in the telling of his team, might have been there, but he was ‘not taking a pencil to anything.'”
  • “Nearby, in a small conference room watching the movie Fargo, were Dina Powell, Gary Cohn, Stephen Miller, and H. R. McMaster, all of whom would later insist that they were, however physically close to the unfolding crisis, removed from it.”
  • “Mark Corallo [former spokesman for Trump’s personal legal team] … privately confiding [to Wolff] that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice — quit.”
  • Bannon: “The three senior guys in the campaign … thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the twenty-fifth floor — with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
  • “If [Trump] was not having his six-thirty dinner with Steve Bannon, then, more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls — the phone was his true contact point with the world — to a small group of friends, among them most frequently [longtime friend] Tom Barrack, who charted his rising and falling levels of agitation through the evening and then compared notes with one another.”
  • “The unique problem here was partly how to get information to someone who did not (or could not or would not) read … Kellyanne Conway brought him the latest outrages against him. There were his after-dinner calls — the billionaire chorus. And then cable, itself programmed to reach him — to court him or enrage him.”
  • Bannon referred to Stephen Miller — Trump’s powerful senior adviser for policy, and keeper of the nationalist flame after Bannon’s departure — as “my typist.”

Okay then.

UPDATE — Well, so much for the Cease & Desist: