In a campaign speech in Nevada on Wednesday, Donald Trump threatened to sue someone over an ad he did not like—just who that person or organization is remains unclear at the moment:
"I saw today—I left the room and I saw a commercial where it was really a nasty commercial, totally made up about me with vets. There is nobody that loves the vets more or respects the vets more," Trump said. "They're spending hundreds of millions of dollars on false commercials and it's a disgrace. So what we'll do—I guess we'll sue them. Let's sue them. Right? Let's sue them."
Trump is a petulant child and suing, or threatening to sue, is how he throws a tantrum. The sheer number of times during the course of his campaign that he has threaten to sue, or sued, in an attempt to shut down criticism is staggering.
This past Saturday he threatened to sue The New York Times after the paper published three pages from his 1995 tax returns showing he claimed a net operating loss of nearly $1 billion that year.
Two weeks earlier, Trump claimed on Twitter, “My lawyers want to sue the failing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.”
In April, Trump called Pulitzer Prize winning tax reporter David Kay Johnson at home threatening to sue the journalist if he didn’t like his reporting.
In July 2015, Trump threatened to sue the National Hispanic Media Coalition for calling his campaign announcement a “bigoted, racist, anti-Latino rant.” This was two weeks after the GOP nominee sued Univision for dropping its broadcasts of his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. (This suit was ultimately settled.)
A few weeks later, Trump’s lawyer, Donald Cohen, threaten to sue The Daily Beast if it published a story stating that “his ex-wife Ivana Trump once used ‘rape’ to describe an incident between them in 1989.” The was after Trump’s lawyer wrongly claimed that “you cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”
Prior to launching his campaign, in April 2015, Trump tweeted that suing Rolling Stone and Huffington Post was a way to “put them out of business.”
The daily grind of a presidential campaign has not halted Trump’s threats.
In February, he threatened to sue Ted Cruz if his main competition for the GOP nomination didn’t “clean up his act, stop cheating, & doing negative ads.” He went on to claim, “I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen.”
A few weeks later, he made an explicit threat to, if elected, change longstanding libel laws to enable him to sue the Washington Post and The New York Times, telling his audience at a rally:
I have respect for Jeff Bezos, but he bought the Washington Post to have political influence and I got to tell you, we have a different country than we used to have. We have a different—He owns Amazon. He wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it. That's not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They're going to have such problems. And one of the things I'm going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I've never said this before, but one of the things I'm going to do if I win—and I hope I do and we're certainly leading—is I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected.
He even threatened Washington Post reporters during an interview with the paper in May 2016, telling them, “I will be bringing more libel suits as people—maybe against you folks. I don’t want to threaten, but I find that the press is unbelievably dishonest.”
He also threatened the Washington Post during a January interview about the failure of the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. “If you write this one, I’m suing you,” he told the paper.
The Washington Post was not Trump’s only target. In April, the Post’s Erik Wemple reported that the GOP candidate had threatened to sue the Associated Press. “Trump threatened to sue the Associated Press over an October 2015 article about a movement by the directors of the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City to oust a management team installed by the Trump family,” he wrote.
The Columbia Journalism Review has detailed even more examples of Trump’s threats of litigation against journalists.
This would be just another story about a billionaire abusing the court system to bully others into silence, if the billionaire in question was not attempting to occupy an office that gives him the power to appoint judges who could fundamentally shift the definition of the First Amendment, which is the critical protection against his attempts to stifle speech he doesn’t like.