WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday took the unusual step of trying to stop the sales of an unflattering behind-the-scenes book about him and his White House, but the publisher said it’s going to publish the book anyway.
Attorney Charles J. Harder of Beverly Hills, California, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the book’s author, Michael Wolff, and his publisher, Henry Holt & Co., a day after New York magazine ran an excerpt of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
“Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from any further publication . . . of the Book, the Article, or any excerpts or summaries of either of them,” Harder said. He also demanded “a full and complete retraction and apology to my client.”
Henry Holt spokeswoman Patricia Eisemann confirmed receipt of the letter but added in a statement, “We see ‘Fire and Fury’ as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse, and are proceeding with the publication of the book.”
Lawyers not connected to the dispute said Harder’s letter appeared to be primarily an act of intimidation. They also said Trump appeared to have little chance at succeeding in stopping a book already being distributed.
“It’s very hard to enjoin a book in four days. The book has been published. It’s out there,” said Leon Friedman, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra Law School. No other president in office has tried to stop publication of a book about him, he said.
The book was scheduled for publication on Jan. 9, but the publisher has since moved up the date to Friday. Newsday and others have obtained copies.
Meanwhile, Trump, his spokeswoman and major political donor Rebekah Mercer continued to beat down on Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chairman and White House chief strategist, who criticizes Trump in quotes throughout the book.
On Wednesday, Harder sent a letter to Bannon, who returned to running the right-wing news website Breitbart after Trump fired him in August, telling him he had violated his confidentiality agreement with the Trump campaign and warning he might be sued.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Breitbart should consider parting ways with Bannon. And Mercer — whose hedge fund executive father Robert Mercer of Head of the Harbor gave Trump’s campaign $5 million — stepped away from Bannon.
She said she supports Trump and his campaign platform. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements,” Rebekah Mercer said.
Bannon offered an olive branch to Trump on “Breitbart News Tonight” on SiriusXM Wednesday, calling him “a great man” and saying he supports his agenda. Trump took note on Thursday, saying Bannon had “changed his tune pretty quick.”
Sanders said she does not know if Trump will actually sue Wolff, his publisher or Bannon. “Whether or not there’s a lawsuit, they should be concerned about peddling fake stories,” she said.
Trump has a stronger case against Bannon if he did violate a nondisclosure agreement, Friedman said. Trump sued and settled with former campaign aide Sam Nunberg last year over a campaign nondisclosure agreement.
Yet Trump, as a public official and public person, faces a high bar in proving libel. “You have to show malicious disregard of the truth. And some of these items are simply opinion. ‘The president is crazy.’ That’s an opinion,” said Friedman, the Joseph Kushner Professor of Civil Liberties Law, named for the grandfather of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Sanders also raised questions about Wolff’s “track record,” a nod to articles in the past that have accused Wolff of making up anecdotes.
In “Fire and Fury,” Wolff acknowledges many accounts of what happened in the White House conflict with each other and many are “baldly untrue.” He said, “Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions.” In other instances, he said based on consistency in accounts and trusted sources, he “settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”