The lawsuit’s coming. Maybe?

A complaint is being drafted, if you believe Team Trump, but for now there’s only some saber-rattling by Trump’s attorney:

“Your article is reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel per se,” Marc E. Kasowitz, a lawyer representing Trump, wrote in an open letter to Times executive editor Dean Baquet. “We hereby demand that you immediately cease any further publication of this article, remove it from your website and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology. Failure to do so will leave my client with no option but to purse all available actions and remedies.”

The letter lacks any substantive facts to cast doubt on the Times story, and is not a lawsuit.

Because Trump’s a public figure, to win a libel suit he’d need to prove that Times published the two women’s accounts either knowing that they were false or with reckless disregard for whether they were false or not, i.e. without trying to substantiate the accusations. The women are on the record, and the paper claims it spoke to friends of the accusers to see if they had ever privately mentioned an encounter with Trump before going public now. A question for a judge, either at trial in weighing a motion to dismiss or on appeal after a verdict, would be whether that’s enough to clear the “reckless disregard” bar. If it isn’t, it would mean that anyone who really has been harassed by someone powerful in a private setting effectively has no way to make a public accusation unless they’re willing and able to pay millions in damages. A lot of people won’t like that standard, including judges. (Should Bill Clinton be able to silence some of his own accusers with libel suits?) My hunch is that the Times would be a stronger favorite to win that suit than Hillary Clinton is to win the election.

Still, Trump might file the complaint for pure PR reasons. Following through would boost morale on the right by casting formal doubt on the accusations and putting the hated media on the defensive. A suit would open him up to discovery by the Times’s lawyers, of course, which would potentially be a disaster, but Trump could always quietly withdraw the complaint after the election, before discovery begins. His goal isn’t to defeat the NYT in court, it’s simply to neutralize the “groper” storyline for 27 more days. More importantly, demonstrating his willingness to sue people over this is a way to warn other potential accusers to think twice before they speak publicly or else they might be on the hook for ruinous damages too. Too late to stop People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, though:

We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us. I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.

Now, I’m a tall, strapping girl who grew up wrestling two giant brothers. I even once sparred with Mike Tyson. It takes a lot to push me. But Trump is much bigger — a looming figure — and he was fast, taking me by surprise and throwing me off balance. I was stunned. And I was grateful when Trump’s longtime butler burst into the room a minute later, as I tried to unpin myself.

The butler informed us that Melania would be down momentarily, and it was time to resume the interview.

Trump tweeted this morning that if that had really happened, Stoynoff would have mentioned it in the story for People that she was writing at the time, in 2005. Stoynoff claims she didn’t go public sooner because “I was afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy me, especially if I got his coveted PEOPLE feature killed.” Jazz made the case earlier that the timing of all of this — two beauty-pageant contestants also claimed last night that Trump touched them inappropriately — is obviously politically calculated and that the women would have spoken out sooner if they were that distressed by what Trump did. Point taken, but after the dam-breaks in the Cosby and Ailes cases, with multiple women who were silent for years suddenly willing to tell their stories once one woman did, I’m cautious about assuming too much about how the psychology of this works. Some of it, I’m sure, is deliberately timed for maximum political damage (as was the Project Veritas video on voter fraud a few days ago) but some of it may be organic, with other women coming forward based on what they’re now seeing and hearing in the media — as well as at the debate just a few days ago, when Trump was asked specifically about harassing women and denied it on national television. In fact, I’ll bet that the Clintons or the Times or whoever arranged the timing had that in mind — that all they needed to do was find a couple of women who would go on the record about Trump and others whom they’ve never heard of would speak up spontaneously. Dam break. All it needed was a small crack.

Team Trump is promising to go scorched-earth on Bill Clinton over this, which I guess is their best play. If they bring forward new Bill accusers, it might demoralize Hillary’s own base enough to drive her numbers down and make the race competitive again. This point by Jonah Goldberg is inescapable, though:

The Trump team reportedly thinks they need to — surprise! — counter punch, like they did with the Paula Jones, Broaddrick press conference. I’ve always thought this was a less effective approach than some of my friends on the right. I think the distinction one often hears — or heard — of “Bill Clinton’s actions” versus “Trump’s words” is perfectly fine as far as it goes, it just doesn’t go very far. Bill Clinton did terrible things. But the average voter already knows that. They also know Bill’s not running for president. Moreover, the people most likely to think this is a really boffo argument are already voting for him. How many swing voters does it appeal to? Any GOP nominee needed millions of Obama voters to vote for him; how many of them cared about this argument? How many Republican-friendly suburban women are going to vote for Trump because he’s attacking Hillary Clinton for her adulterous husband and her attacks on his conquests/victims? Some? Maybe. A lot? No frick’n way.

Anyway that’s all moot now. The distinction is melting away as women come out to accuse Trump of sexual assault. The “Bill’s deeds” versus “Trump’s words” distinction is becoming, at best, very, very, blurred. He’s a terrible messenger for a very weak message.

The point of the harassment accusations is to make voters believe that Trump is, more or less, just as personally sleazy as Bill Clinton. Trump’s message, meanwhile, is that Bill Clinton is a sex criminal who doesn’t belong anywhere near the White House. If the election turns into a choice between Hillary Clinton and “guy who behaves with women much like sex criminal Bill Clinton does,” who’s voting for the latter — especially with Trump himself prosecuting the case that Bill’s behavior is disqualifying? As Ben Shapiro put it, “To write off Trump’s accusers while giving credence to Clinton’s is hypocrisy, barring some external evidence demonstrating that Trump’s accusers are less credible than Clinton’s. To write off Trump’s alleged evils because you dislike the Clintons more is to become the Clintons.”

Here’s what CBS was airing last night, by the way. The good news: There’s no touching in this video. The bad news: Errrrrrr…

Update: It can’t be overstated how Trump’s own big mouth has damaged him in all this. Without the “Access Hollywood” audio or the old Howard Stern interviews, all this is is a he-said-she-said situation. With those tapes circulating, though, there’s not much distance between what he said long ago and what she said recently. John Ziegler:

After all, we now have Trump on tape, in what he thinks is a “private” conversation (even though he knows he is wearing a microphone) bragging about both kissing and groping women in a manner which he can’t seem to control, but gets away with because he is a “star.” We also have him on tape with Howard Stern boasting of going into the changing room of his pageants and seeing the contestants undressed. We have him on numerous outlets over many years making highly sexual and obviously inappropriate remarks about his own daughter Ivanka. We even have a court case which, remarkably, the news media has completely ignored, where Trump is accused of raping a thirteen-year-old girl.

So who the hell is really stunned that we now have numerous allegations of actual inappropriate/illegal actions which fit exactly with the persona which he created in those interviews (though we should have at least some caution since, once a modus operandi is publicly established, it is extremely easy for accusers to simply copy that narrative, knowing that they would be perceived as instantly credible)? The most “shocking” element this is situation is that it appears that when Trump bragged about being able to get away with sexual assault, it might have been the most truthful thing we have heard him say during the entire campaign.