Trump himself got involved in the legal pushback, sending a letter to then-Bloomberg Global Media Counsel Charles Glasser challenging a great many of the claims made in the article. He appeared particularly peeved about cufflinks-related reporting:
Despite some growling, the Trump people never sued Bloomberg over the story. Yet the document trail shows just how deep into the minutiae Trump will plunge if he feels he has a case against a news outlet.
Now look at the case that his lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, lays out before Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times. Baquet’s colleagues, Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey, yesterday wrote a story documenting how two women — Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks — claim that Trump touched them “inappropriately.”
There’s nothing there, aside from some griping about timing. As for that issue, Kasowitz can find the answer in the New York Times story itself. It says that both women were motivated to speak out because Trump denied engaging in just this sort of behavior at Sunday night’s debate, which followed the publication by The Post of a tape of Trump and then-“Access Hollywood” talent Billy Bush engaging in lewd conversation on a bus.
At least this time, the Trump campaign bothered to press the newspaper directly for action. After a May story by Barbaro and Twohey that alleged piggish behavior by Trump toward women, Trump & Co. made noises about legal action against the New York Times. But as we’ve reported on this blog, they never so much as mustered an official correction or retraction request.
The party that Trump is representing has long championed tort reform, the movement to combat what Chamber of Commerce types call “frivolous lawsuits.” The Republican Party 2016 platform has a small component favoring tort reform as a means of lowering medical costs. Here is Trump, that party’s standard-bearer — a man who’s been involved in 3,500 civil actions as a plaintiff and defendant, as a USA Today analysis determined.
Were Trump to pad that total with a bona fide legal action against the New York Times, he’d be doing the implausible work of showing even more cluelessness about the U.S. system of justice. Earlier this year, he spoke of “opening up” libel laws, even though he’d have no direct authority to do so. As we now know, he was just fantasizing about facilitating suits like the one he is now contemplating against Baquet and his colleagues.
It just so happens that even in the more open world of libel laws that an Emperor Trump would institute, a suit against the New York Times over “Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately” would fail. Just look at that retraction letter. It’s short and risible because: 1) The victims in this story are on the record, meaning there’s no “anonymous sources” card for the Trump lawyer to play; 2) In both cases, there are on-the-record sources who confirm that the victims have told them about the story; 3) There’s a blustery denial from Trump, who attacks Twohey as “a disgusting human being” in a call prior to publication. No, Touhey can’t sue Trump for that — “disgusting human being” is protected opinion/name-calling under the First Amendment.
“This is yet another example of Trump’s disturbing habit of using obviously baseless lawsuits to try to intimidate and silence the press from scrutinizing his activities — and it is precisely this sort of abusive behavior that led the Supreme Court to erect such strong constitutional protections against libel claims,” writes attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
People magazine took a different angle on Trump’s advances. Former magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff has penned a first-person account of Trump having pushed her “against the wall and forc[ed] his tongue down my throat.” This awful moment, Stoynoff alleges, happened in 2005 at Trump’s Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, where Stoynoff and People were doing a piece on the first wedding anniversary of Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, who was pregnant at the time. During a break in the proceedings, Trump showed Stoynoff one of his prized rooms and proceeded to assault here therein, according to the story.
What Stoynoff describes aligns with what Trump said on that “Access Hollywood” tape: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
The first-person packs a wallop behind Stoynoff’s pointed writing. Yet the presentation leaves the claims with less journalistic backup than those in the Times piece. For instance, there’s a butler in the story who barged in on the assault. “I was grateful when Trump’s longtime butler burst into the room a minute later, as I tried to unpin myself,” writes Stoynoff. In the hands of another reporter, that butler could have been queried about this string of events. There’s no evidence that People did so. The Erik Wemple Blog has requested interviews with People.
Likewise with contemporary accounts: Stoynoff writes that she told a colleague about the alleged assault. Again, in the hands of a third-party reporter, that person could have been interviewed about this moment.
In any case, Stoynoff agonized over what to do about Trump’s conduct and her own professional responsibilities:
[L]ike many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it (“It’s not like he raped me…”); I doubted my recollection and my reaction. 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.“I just want to forget it ever happened,” I insisted. The happy anniversary story hit newsstands a week later and Donald left me a voicemail at work, thanking me.“I think you’re terrific,” he said, “the article was great and you’re great.”Yeah, I thought. I’m great because I kept my mouth shut.
Now Trump is holding this very dynamic against People magazine. “Why wasn’t it part of the story that appeared 12 years ago?” Trump asked at a rally moments ago in West Palm Beach. He also said that the alleged incident happened in a “public area, people all over the place.” The “invented account has already been debunked by eyewitnesses,” he further alleged. As for the whole thing, a spokeswoman for Trump told People, “This never happened. There is no merit or veracity to this fabricated story.”
Trump has no credibility. He lies for practice, just to say in mendacious shape. Given that consideration and his history with woman, this blog has trouble believing his denial. Yet the holes that People left in its account will provide the GOP nominee media-oriented talking points from here till Nov. 8 — talking points that some will take very seriously. Don’t believe that? Just consider that when Trump defended his offensive comments to Billy Bush as “locker room talk,” some folks interpreted his words literally: