Yesterday one of Trump’s lawyers sued Buzzfeed and Fusion GPS over the Steele Dossier.
Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer for TrumpÂ who is named in the dossier, says BuzzFeed and several of its staffers defamed him when it published the 35-page document and an accompanying article last January. He also says that Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson, its founder, similarly defamed him after it hired an ex-British spy to compile the document as part of its opposition research against the Trump campaign.
Today, Trump said he intends to “take a strong look” at libel laws because he thinks they aren’t fair.
Trump made the tautological â€” if vaguely threatening â€” statement to reporters at a cabinet meeting.
â€œWe are going to take a strong look at our countryâ€™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,â€ he said.
Trump said he wants â€œfairness.â€
â€œIf somebody says something thatâ€™s totally false and knowingly false, that the person that has been abused, defamed, libeled, will have meaningful recourse,â€ he said. â€œOur current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness.â€
Trump himself was never guilty of saying false and defamatory things, of course.
An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.
â€” Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2012
What’s probably frustrating Trump and his lawyer is the fact that in the U.S. it’s just about impossible for a public official to successfully sue for defamation. As it says on this legal information page —
The public has a right to criticize the people who govern them, so the least protection from defamation is given to public officials. When officials are accused of something that involves their behavior in office, they have to prove all of the above elements of defamationÂ andÂ they must also prove that the defendant acted with “actual malice.” …
…Â “Actual malice” means that the person who made the statement knew it wasn’t true, or didn’t care whether it was true or not and was reckless with the truth — for example, when someone has doubts about the truth of a statement but does not bother to check further before publishing it.
I’m not aware of a single case of a sitting president successfully suing someone for defamation. Or even unsuccessfully suing someone. As far as I know, the last POTUS who took legal steps to keep people from saying nasty things about him was John Adams, and that didn’t turn out well.
American tradition has always been that you can say any damn thing you want about the POTUS except to threaten physical harm. And that extends to anyone on the White House staff and his personal lawyers who get sucked into public issues.Â Michael Cohen should know that. Obviously, if presidents or other elected officials could sue anyone who said anything critical of them, free speech would be a joke.
I suspect that if President Obama had attempted to sue Trump for dafamation he would have had a hell of a case, especially since Trump continued to push the “birther” theory long after it had been debunked. But he didn’t, because presidents are supposed to be above that sort of thing.
In other news — Trump also said today that he thinks it’s “unlikely” he would ever have to be interviewed by Bob Mueller.
â€œWeâ€™ll seeÂ what happens.Â Certainly Iâ€™ll see what happens.Â But when they have no collusion andÂ nobody has found any collusion,Â at any level, it seems unlikelyÂ that you would even have anÂ interview.â€
My understanding is that if Mueller insists on an interview, Trump would have to submit to it — or else figure out how to fire Mueller. And we’d have one doozy of a constitutional crisis on our hands then.