One of Trump’s most devious tactics is how he tries to silence his critics
Every week seems to bring a new target for Trump’s wrath. He simply can’t let anything go. But when his grievances against his enemies are too severe simply to attack them in a series of hateful tweets, you can count on Trump to take it to the next level: the courtroom.
Most recently, Trump has vowed to seek revenge on BuzzFeed for publishing the Steele Dossier almost a year ago. Now, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is suing BuzzFeed for defamation.
BuzzFeed stands by its decision to publish the dossier. Katie Rayford, a BuzzFeed spokesperson, told AlterNet: “The dossier is, and continues to be, the subject of active investigations by Congress and intelligence agencies. It was presented to two successive presidents, and has been described in detail by news outlets around the world. Its interest to the public is obvious. This is not the first time Trump’s personal lawyer has attacked the free press, and we look forward to defending our First Amendment rights in court.”
Trump loves both suing and threatening lawsuits over any perceived slight, whether it’s an artist who depicted the president nude with a micropenis, or an analyst who (correctly) predicted the Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino would fail. The president has a long history of using bogus claims of libel and defamation to bully opponents and tie them up in court. The American Bar Association has called him a “libel bully,” but was afraid to make the claim public because its lawyers feared Trump might sue in retaliation. There’s even a nifty online counter tracking the number of hours since Trump last threatened a journalist or critic. According to the makers of the counter, he’s threatened to sue at least 45 times since the 1980s.
As outrageous as some of Trump’s claims are, being sued for defamation or libel is no laughing matter. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention the opportunity cost of time spent in court, plus the emotional strain and reputation damage that can occur during a complicated lawsuit. For someone as powerful as Trump, who can hand these burdens off to someone else, lawsuits are an easy way to threaten anyone who challenges him.
Here are some of the least credible and most obnoxious lawsuits Trump has followed through on in an effort to silence his opponents.
1. The Chicago Tribune
Back in 1984, Trump sued Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Gapp for a staggering $500 million after the writer mocked a proposed Trump building in the New York financial district. Gapp called the building plan unrealistic and “one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city”—and Trump was not having it.
The case was tossed out by a particularly sardonic judge, whose full statement is a delight to read. In Gapp’s defense, the building design was totally silly, as you can see below.
(Credit: Chicago Tribune)
2. Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien
In 2005, Trump sued his own biographer, Timothy O’Brien, for writing in TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald that the real estate mogul was worth only $150 to $250 million. Trump insisted he was worth at least $5 billion, and took the case to court. Seriously. A judge ultimately dismissed the case. After he lost, Trump bragged to the Washington Post: “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees but they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make [O’Brien’s] life miserable, which I’m happy about.”
3. Miss USA contestant Sheena Monnin
In 2012, pageant contestant Sheena Monnin complained on Facebook that the Miss USA contest Trump oversaw was “fraudulent,” “trashy” and “rigged.” Trump sued her for $5 million in response and won an arbitration award. Trump attorney Michael Cohen later bragged that he and Trump had “destroyed” Monnin’s life.
4. The Daily Beast
Trump’s team sued the Daily Beast in 2015 after it published an article about Ivana Trump’s accusations of rape against her ex-husband. On that occasion, attorney Cohen, who headed many of these lawsuits, made it perfectly clear that the suit was intended to punish anyone who smeared Trump’s name.
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen told the Daily Beast. “So I’m warning you, tread very f—ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. You understand me?”
“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up…for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet…you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he said.
5. Union workers at Trump Hotel Las Vegas
In 2015, Trump sued the Culinary Union and Bartenders Union at his own Las Vegas hotel for printing “misleading” flyers that suggested Trump himself did not stay at Trump Hotel Las Vegas because the rooms weren’t luxurious enough. At the time, employees at the hotel were in the midst of efforts to unionize.
A union spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter: “This lawsuit is an effort to distract from the unionizing effort…There are over 500 workers who are fighting for justice and respect at the Trump Hotel Las Vegas.”
Trump’s long and well-publicized feud with Univision has resulted in threats of several lawsuits, including one against programming chief Alberto Ciurana for posting an Instagram with Trump’s face spliced next to Dylann Roof’s. So basically, Trump threatened to sue over a meme calling out his blatant racism.
It’s no wonder Univision’s lawyers called Trump “thin-skinned” in response. Their memorandum to dismiss the suit nails Trump’s tactics of intimidation perfectly: “There is a rich irony to Trump’s cry that he is the target of an effort to ‘suppress [his] right to free speech,’ when it is Trump himself—a candidate for president—who is attempting to invoke the coercive power of the courts to punish a citizen’s speech.”