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President Donald Trump Is Being Sued for ‘Retaliatory’ Acts, Threats Against the Press


While President Donald Trump and his legal team may have been happy to see at least one legal problem go away with the dismissal of Stormy Daniels‘ defamation suit Monday night, another lawsuit is already in the hopper.

PEN America, which says its mission is “to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible,” is suing President Trump in his official capacity for violating the First Amendment.

“President Trump has directed his threats and retaliatory actions at specific outlets whose content and viewpoints he views as hostile. As a result, journalists who report on the President or his Administration reasonably believe they face a credible threat of government retaliation for carrying out the duties of their profession,” the lawsuit says. “President Trump has thus intentionally hung a sword of Damocles over the heads of countless writers, journalists, and media entities, including members of Plaintiff PEN American Center, Inc.”

“His actions seek to accomplish indirectly what the President cannot do directly: impede professional and investigative journalism, and silence criticism. Plaintiff seeks a specific and narrow—but important—remedy for the President’s unconstitutional actions aimed at suppressing speech,” the suit continues. “It seeks the entry of an Order (a) declaring that Defendant Trump’s retaliatory acts violate the First Amendment, and (b) enjoining Defendant Trump from directing any officer, employee, agency, or other agent or instrumentality of the United States government to take any action against any person or entity in retaliation for speech that the President or his Administration do not like.”

In particular, the group said President Trump’s “retaliatory” statements against Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, threats against the Time Warner-AT&T merger because Time Warner is CNN’s parent company, and the call to challenge NBC’s broadcast license because of “fake news” all amount to unconstitutional actions by the president.

The group currently has a statement prominently displayed on its website from its president Jennifer Egan and CEO Suzanne Nossel. It says the following, in part:

President Trump’s tirades against the press are not new. His cries of “fake news” are an almost daily occurrence. The White House has called for individual journalists to be fired, and the president has referred to the media as “the enemy of the American people.” This has created an environment of hostility toward the media wherein journalists have been subject to death threats, needed bodyguards to cover political rallies, and have faced attacks in their newsrooms. The president has also threatened book publishers and authors who have published critical volumes. While many media outlets are unrelenting in their robust coverage, individual writers may think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs. As you know, over the last 18 months PEN America has been doing research, reporting, advocacy, outreach events, and more to spotlight and call out the president’s assaults on writers and journalists.

Yet most of the president’s verbal attacks on the press are speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Our country’s broad protections for free speech allow the president to denigrate the press and even go after individual journalists by name. However, when President Trump crosses the line and threatens to use his authority to punish the media, or actually does so, it is vital for the courts to step in and affirm that such threats and reprisals are unconstitutional. We have worked closely with leading First Amendment scholars and practitioners in private practice and academia in order to hone a request to the court to do just that.

[Image via Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.