Update 1/4/18 at 4:30 p.m. ET: Wolff’s publisher effectively ignored Trump's threats and announced Thursday afternoon that the book will now go on sale Friday morning, 4 days earlier than planned. “Here we go. You can buy it (and read it) tomorrow,” Wolff also said on Twitter. “Thank you, Mr. President."
The president of the United States threatened legal action Thursday morning to prevent a gossip-filled insider account of the first year of his presidency, “Fire and Fury,” from being published.
In a letter sent to publisher Henry Holt and Co. and author Michael Wolff, Donald Trump’s lawyer demanded the publisher “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination” of the book, even though it's already shipping to stores and has landed in the hands of journalists ahead of its Jan. 9 release date.
If the publisher ignores the demand, the extra publicity from the president attempting to block the sale of the book will likely have the unintended consequence of making it even more popular and buzzed about, when it officially goes on sale Tuesday. Holt did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Following reports and previews of the book published Wednesday, the White House has labeled it “trashy tabloid fiction” and the president called it “phony.” Wolff reportedly based the book on some 200 interviews over 18 months during the campaign and Trump's first 8 months in the White House.
This is the second “cease and desist” letter sent by Trump’s team in the last 12 hours. The first was sent Wednesday night to former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon for allegedly violating a non-disclosure agreement by talking to Wolff. The book quotes Bannon as insulting Trump and his children, calling Ivanka “dumb as a brick,” saying Don Jr. was “treasonous” for meeting with Russians about opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and generally suggesting that Trump himself is a bumbling idiot.
Trump issued an angry statement Wednesday afternoon that “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” adding that “When he was fired [in August], he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
Trump’s lawyer Charles Harder also suggested he doesn’t have a copy of the book yet and has had to rely on media reports and pre-released excerpts. Harder demanded that Holt to “send immediately an electronic copy of the full text of the Book, in searchable form, and send via messenger a hard copy of the Book to my office address at the top of this letter, so that we can fully assess all of the statements in the Book.”
Harder, who helped take down Gawker Media in 2016, told Holt and Wolff that they are exploring possible charges of libel.
Trump has a well-earned reputation for threatening and at times pursing libel charges. In 2016 during the presidential campaign, media lawyers at the American Bar Association (ABA) authorized a report on Trump’s litigation history that ultimately labeled his a “libel bully” with a penchant for filing unviable lawsuits. Ironically, the ABA ultimately didn’t publish its report because of fears of being sued by Trump, according to The New York Times which discovered the report.
The bar for libel and defamation is high in the United States given the power of the First Amendment. And alleging that Bannon violated a non-disclosure agreement suggests that at least part of the book is true.
Here is a full copy of the letter send by Harder: