Trump rages over Bob Woodward expose and hints at US libel law change

'Isn't it a shame that someone can... totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution,' tweets president

Chris Baynes
Wednesday 05 September 2018 13:44 BST
Fear: The 7 most explosive passages from Bob Woodward's Trump expose

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Donald Trump has responded angrily to reports of Bob Woodward‘s explosive new White House expose, suggesting he would be in favour of changing US libel laws to prevent the publication of allegations he claims are untrue.

In an early-morning tweet, the president said: “Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost.

“Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?”

In the explosive book, titled Fear: Trump in the White House, the Watergate reporter who helped bring down president Richard Nixon paints a picture of a deeply dysfunctional White House where aides see Mr Trump as an “idiot” and a threat to national security.

According to Mr Woodward’s account, some of the president’s closest advisers disparage his judgement and work behind to his back to limit the damage he can cause to the US economy and international relations.

The White House has dismissed the book as “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad”.

Defence secretary Jim Mattis and White House chief of staff John F Kelly have each denied making critical comments about Mr Trump attributed to them in the book.

In tweet on Tuesday Mr Trump described the book as “a con on the public”, disputing a specific passage about him reportedly referring to attorney general Jeff Sessions as “mentally retarded” and “a dumb southerner”.

The president suggested Mr Woodward – one of the most celebrated journalists of his generation – may be working as “a Dem operative”.

He previously praised the reporter as “fair”, according to a transcript of a phone conversation between the pair published by the Washington Post.

The president called Mr Woodward on 14 August after learning of the book’s upcoming publication. The journalist said he had repeatedly tried to secure an interview with Mr Trump before completing the manuscript but was rebuffed by the White House.

“It’s really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would’ve loved to have spoken to you,” responded Mr Trump. ”You know I’m very open to you. I think you’ve always been fair.”

An an interview with the Daily Caller on Monday, the president said of Mr Woodward: “I probably would have preferred to speak to him, but maybe not. I think it probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the book. He wanted to write the book a certain way.”

He added: “It’s just another bad book. He’s had a lot of credibility problems.”

Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under George W Bush, defended Mr Woodward, tweeting: “I’ve been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward book. There were quotes in it I didn’t like. But never once – never – did I think Woodward made it up.

“Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays is straight. Someone told it to him.”

Ted Lieu, Democrat congressman for California, said: “The choice here is very clear. Do you believe Donald Trump, who even his own attorneys don’t trust to tell the truth. Or do you believe Bob Woodward, who has won numerous awards for journalism.”

He added: “Oh, Bob Woodward also has hundreds of hours of tapes of his interviews.”

Mr Woodward spent nearly two years talking to key figures White House figures for the book.

“It’s gonna be killer. Everyone talked with Woodward,” a former Trump official told Politico last month.

In 2013 Mr Trump has spoke out in defence of Mr Woodward after a spat between the 75-year-old Washington Post reporter and one of Barack Obama’s economic advisers.

“Only the Obama WH can get away with attacking Bob Woodward,” tweeted Mr Trump at the time.

Mr Trump has previously threatened to tighten US libel laws after another expose of his administration, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the White House.

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” the president said in January.

The American Civil Liberties Union said at the time that Mr Trump’s threat was “frankly, not credible”.

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