FAN 128.1 (First Amendment News) Tribe & others form pro bono phalanx to defend against Trump’s threatened defamation lawsuits

It is about time that the use of lawsuit threats by a bully, like Trump, should be met, and met strongly. — Laurence Tribe 

Theodore Boutrous, Jr.

Theodore Boutrous, Jr.

It all began with Theodore Boutrous, Jr. According to Law Newz, “on October 13, Boutrous sent out a tweet promising to a pro bono defense to the Palm Beach Post newspaper after it published a story from one of Trump’s alleged accusers.” And then on October 22, he tweeted: “I repeat: I will represent pro bono anyone  sues for exercising their free speech rights. Many other lawyers have offered to join me.”

Shortly afterwards one of those who offered to form pro bono phalanx to defend against Trump’s threatened defamation lawsuits was  Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe.

Professor Laurence Tribe

Professor Laurence Tribe

Last evening Professor Tribe appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC). Tribe was on the program to talk about recent threats by Donald Trump to sue his sexual misconduct accusers: “All of these liars will be sued once the election is over,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “I look so forward to doing that.” (video here)

Here are some transcribed excerpts from Professor Tribe’s comments in response to that threat:

Offer of pro bono assistance

“Ted Boutrous and Ben Wittes, and many other leading lawyers, have [offered to represent pro bono those alleging sexual misconduct against Donald Trump]. And I did it because it is about time that the use of lawsuit threats by a bully, like Trump, should be met – and met strongly – because a lot of people, a lot of women, might be deterred by his threats even though he often doesn’t carry them out. They might be afraid to come forward; it’s not only them, it’s all kinds of groups. A group that I am also ready to defend pro bono, although it may sound a little bit strange, is the American Bar Association, which was frightened into suppressing its own report by a free-speech watchdog group, which concluded that Trump used the threats of libel suits to bully people into submission. And they ended up censoring themselves because they were afraid of being sued.” [See Adam Liptak, Fearing Trump, Bar Association Stifles Report Calling Him a ‘Libel Bully’, New York Times, Oct. 24, 2016; see also Susan E. Seager, Donald J. Trump Is A Libel Bully But Also A Libel Loser, Media Law Resource Center, Oct. 21, 2016]

“It’s really about time that people who know what they are talking about in the law tell this guy what an idiot he is and how unfair it is for him to use his power. . . . He says that he can just sue the hell out of anybody. [But] he’s gonna learn better than that when he tries. . . . “

“[T]he women who are afraid to come forward should know that lawyers like me are going to be willing to defend them and the journalists who reported their stories without charge. . . .”

Possible defamation suits against Trump

“All of the people [Trump] threatens to sue, without any real ground and in the face of the First Amendment, have strong grounds to sue him for deliberately and falsely labeling them as liars and as people who simply want – I think he called it — their ten minutes of fame . . . .”

Course of action if Trump wins

“Justice Brennan in a case called Garrison, pointed out that the way the Nazis, early in their rise to power, silenced their enemies and their opposition was to threating to use defamation lawsuits against them. But I do want to want to add, quite apart from these lawsuits, if Trump loses (as I hope he will) we won’t have to take the next step. But if he should happen to win (heaven forbid!) . . . then lawyers around the country, who are joining me in this effort, are going to do all we can, pro bono, to prevent him from abusing executive power by violating the First Amendment and much else in the Constitution. Because if he wins, he’s likely to take a Congress with him; he’s not likely to have the usual checks-and-balances. So, the legal profession has a challenge that I hope it can meet. I think that people who are lawyers . . . , in the best sense of the word, need to step up and call this tyrant for what he is.”

Coming: Tomorrow’s FAN post is titled: “A 10-year chronology: Trump’s lawsuits & threatened ones involving freedom of speech & press”

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