Trump on Woodward's book: When will Congress act to tighten up libel laws?

This idea is like his misconceptions about trade deficits: Terrible, but so basic to his thinking that he’ll simply never be talked out of it.

He’s been complaining about libel laws since before he was the GOP nominee. You’re invited to read this old post for a fuller take on the merits (especially the bit about this being a fundamentally elitist complaint), but I’ll stick to three points this time:

1. He keeps wondering why Congress won’t act on libel even though (a) libel isn’t a federal concern and (b) the “actual malice” standard in defamation cases that involve a public figure was set by the Supreme Court, as a constitutional matter. Congress couldn’t tighten the law even if it wanted to.

2. This is part of a pattern of POTUS lobbying federal officials to use government power to punish his personal enemies for him. For whatever reason, that pattern has been especially evident lately. Here he was yesterday nudging the FCC to look at NBC’s “license”:

And here he was the day before with the flip side of the argument, urging federal officials not to use government power to punish his friends even when they’ve been charged with crimes:

“Congress should make it easier for me to sue Bob Woodward and scare other critics away from publishing” is right in line with that. Although he’s probably not serious about it: Even if Congress could lower the bar from “actual malice” to negligence for public figures to recover damages, he’d still need to prove Woodward was negligent. And that would be tricky since it would open him up to discovery and would invite Woodward to play the hundreds of hours of audio he has from interviewing sources. Better to holler “fake news!” than force him to prove that this news isn’t fake. Since he probably can.

And if it really is true that Woodward “totally ma[d]e up stories and form[ed] a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact,” Trump doesn’t need to change the law to sue him. He can do it under current law. That’s “actual malice” by any definition.

3. It seems never to occur to him that lowering the bar for defamation suits would expose him to liability too. Lord knows how many people would want to squeeze a billionaire for some cash to compensate them for false things he’s said about them in interviews or tweets. He’s facing at least two defamation suits right now, in fact, one from Stormy Daniels and the other from Summer Zervos; the latter’s complaint has already survived a motion to dismiss. Imagine Barack Obama suing him for the birth certificate nonsense. Imagine Rafael Cruz suing his buddies at the Enquirer over the “JFK assassination” smear. That’s the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, guess who “liked” this tweet when I published it this morning.

Yep, Megyn Kelly. America deserves a Kelly v. Trump courtroom showdown. Alas, SCOTUS will never overrule the Sullivan case to make it happen.

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Jazz Shaw 12:01 PM on November 30, 2022