Trump sues journalist Bob Woodward for releasing interview recordings

The complaint alleges violations of Mr Trump’s copyright interests and accuses Mr Woodward of unjustly profiting from the tapes. PHOTOS: NYTIMES, BOB WOODWARD/FACEBOOK

NEW YORK - Former United States president Donald Trump is suing journalist Bob Woodward for releasing recordings of interviews that he gave to the journalist in 2019 and 2020, claiming he never agreed to those tapes being shared with the public.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday against Mr Woodward, publisher Simon & Schuster, and the publisher’s parent company Paramount Global, Mr Trump claimed that although he had given Mr Woodward consent to record their conversations “for the sole purpose of a book”, that did not extend to packaging those recordings as an audiobook. 

“This case centres on Mr Woodward’s systematic usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation of audio of President Trump,” Mr Trump’s lawyers wrote.

The complaint alleges violations of Mr Trump’s copyright interests and accuses Mr Woodward and the publisher of unjustly profiting from the tapes.

Mr Trump is seeking just under US$50 million (S$65 million) in damages, a figure his lawyers calculated assuming Mr Woodward would sell two million copies of the audiobook at a download price of US$24.99.

“Former president Trump’s lawsuit is without merit and we will aggressively defend against it. All these interviews were on the record and recorded with President Trump’s knowledge and agreement. Moreover, it is in the public interest to have this historical record in Trump’s own words. We are confident that the facts and the law are in our favour,” Simon & Schuster said in a joint e-mailed statement with Mr Woodward. 

Mr Trump participated in 19 interviews in-person or by phone with Mr Woodward between December 2019 and August 2020, as well as in 2016 when he was still a presidential candidate, according to the complaint.

Mr Woodward’s book, Rage, was published a month after the last interview. In October 2022, Simon & Schuster released the audiobook of the recordings, The Trump Tapes.

The case also accuses Mr Woodward of misrepresenting at least one of their exchanges in the audiobook by editing out portions of the full interview.

Mr Trump had publicly complained about the recordings before, posting on his Truth Social platform shortly after the audiobook came out that he had never given Mr Woodward permission.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist addressed the claim at the time, telling CNN that “they were done voluntarily” and “it was all on the record”.

Mr Trump’s attorneys, Mr Robert Garson and Ms Yanina Zilberman, filed the case in the Pensacola division of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Mr Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago estate is in Palm Beach County, has typically filed lawsuits in his home court, the Southern District of Florida. He is claiming jurisdiction in Pensacola because he is a Florida resident and the defendants generally do business there. 

The Pensacola division’s three judges who handle civil cases are all Republican nominees – Mr T. Kent Wetherell II, who was nominated by Mr Trump; Mr M. Casey Rodgers, confirmed under former president George W. Bush; and Senior Judge Roger Vinson, who was nominated by former president Ronald Reagan and takes a smaller caseload.

The case was assigned to Judge Vinson.

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Mr Trump has a long track record of going to court over media coverage and commentary he does not like. He has a pending US$475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN over how he has been characterised in network broadcasts. A federal judge in Florida has not ruled yet on CNN’s motion to dismiss the case. 

In 2020, his campaign filed libel suits against the Washington Post, New York Times and CNN over opinion pieces related to the Russia investigation. A judge has yet to rule on the Post’s motion to dismiss, the latter two were tossed out by judges in New York and Georgia. A case he filed against the Times and his niece Ms Mary Trump over reporting on his taxes is pending.

Before he became president, Mr Trump lost a defamation case against journalist Timothy O’Brien, who is now senior executive editor at Bloomberg Opinion, over a 2005 biography that described him as a millionaire, not a billionaire.

Separate from the cases that actually ended up in court, the Columbia Journalism Review offered an exhaustive catalogue of instances when Mr Trump or his lawyers had threatened journalists and news outlets.

The suit comes as Mr Trump mounts a 2024 White House comeback bid. This past weekend, he visited early primary voting states New Hampshire and South Carolina as he seeks to shore up GOP support.

The suit alleges that Mr Trump has been “harmed” by the recordings. Some of the recordings discuss topics including Mr Trump’s correspondence with North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un and also his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in its early days. BLOOMBERG

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