While President Trump has been known to occasionally reconcile with his enemies (see his cozy relationship with Lyin’ Ted Cruz), accusing one’s son of treason doesn’t seem like something anyone would come back from easily. Indeed, the fallout from Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book about the Trump White House — which features many of Bannon’s unflattering musings about the First Family — continued well into Tuesday night. Trump’s lawyers have now formalized the feud, issuing a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Bannon stop making disparaging comments about the Trumps.
The legal threats didn’t end there. On Thursday morning, Trump’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Wolff and his publisher, Henry Holt & Co. The letter demanded that the publisher “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book,” and cancel any planned excerpts. It also asked that Trump’s team receive a free copy.
In a statement regarding Bannon, Trump’s team said: “On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent.”
Trump reportedly had all of his campaign staffers sign nondisclosure agreements, just as he’s done throughout his business career, so it’s likely that there is a document in which Bannon agrees not to spill Trump family secrets. But there’s good reason to doubt that legal action against Bannon is actually imminent.
The letter from Trump attorney Charles J. Harder (who represented Hulk Hogan in the case that bankrupted Gawker Media) cites specific paragraphs in the nondisclosure agreement and lays out how suggesting the family is involved in money laundering and calling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick” in chats with a journalist might violate it. Per ABC News:
You [Bannon] have breached the Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company, disclosing Confidential Information to Mr. Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr. Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company, knowing that they would be included in Mr. Wolff’s book and publicity surrounding the marketing and sale of his book.
Harder adds, “Remedies for your breach of the agreement include but are not limited to monetary damages, injunctive relief and all other remedies available at law and equity.” The amount of these potential monetary damages is not disclosed, but Bannon probably isn’t worried that he’ll be forking over millions to Trump. (Though he may be facing a serious funding problem. The Washington Post reports that Bannon recently alienated his primary financial backer, Rebekah Mercer.)
Presumably, President Trump doesn’t actually want Bannon and various members of his family and staff to be deposed under oath; issuing cease-and-desist letters has just become habit for him. Over the years, Trump’s attorneys have issued similar threats over a protest against Trump’s relationship with Macy’s, Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz publicly disparaging Trump, the “failing” New York Times reporting on Trump sexual-misconduct allegations, a Club for Growth attack ad, more negative ads from Jeb Bush and John Kasich supporters, and a Ted Cruz ad that consisted of an undoctored clip of Trump calling himself pro-choice on Meet the Press.
“I have to say, Mr. Trump, you have been threatening frivolous lawsuits your entire adult life. Even in the annals of frivolous lawsuits, this takes the cake,” Cruz responded, inviting Trump to “file the lawsuit.”
As with the vast majority of Trump legal threats, the suit never materialized. FiveThirtyEight counted 20 instances in which Trump threatened to sue during the campaign alone, and he only followed through twice.
Regardless of whether the latest legal threat is real, it marks a remarkable turn in Trump’s relationship with Bannon. As recently as October, the president described his former adviser as “a friend of mine.” Earlier on Tuesday, Trump issued a scorching four-paragraph statement in which he said Bannon had nothing to do with his victory and was “rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me.” He added, “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
Bannon allies told the Post that he had considered issuing a statement denouncing the book and denying some of his quotes, but Trump attacked him before he got a chance.
Bannon’s eventual response suggests he’s still holding out hope that his relationship with Trump can be repaired. While hosting the “Breitbart News Tonight” radio show on SiriusXM, Bannon mostly focused on immigration, but had only kind words when a caller referenced his feud with Trump. “The president of the United States is a great man,” Bannon said. “You know, I support him day in and day out, whether going through the country giving the Trump miracle speech or on the show or on the website.”