Trump Campaign Threatens To Sue NY Times For Sharing His 1995 Tax Returns
from the that's-not-how-this-works dept
It’s kind of amazing how quickly Donald Trump’s lawyers seem to threaten any media outlet for publishing information about him that he doesn’t like. The latest target is the NY Times which ran a big story over the weekend with some leaked pages of his 1995 tax returns, suggesting that the guy who repeatedly claims he’s great at business, reported personal losses of $916 million. We’ll leave the analyzing of the tax returns to those who do that sort of thing (though I will recommend reading this analysis, which suggests that it’s likely a key part of the NYT article is wrong concerning Trump’s ability to use those losses to avoid taxes for 18 years), but we did want to focus in on something more relevant to what we discuss here at Techdirt. The legal threat that the Trump campaign sent to the Times in response:
Separately, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Marc E. Kasowitz, emailed a letter to The Times arguing that publication of the records is illegal because Mr. Trump has not authorized the disclosure of any of his tax returns. Mr. Kasowitz threatened “prompt initiation of appropriate legal action.”
Unlike most of the nine other times (at least) during this campaign that Trump has threatened to sue a media property for their reporting, this one may at least have some tiny marginal legal basis — though it’s certainly not a slam dunk. What is true is that publishing someone’s tax return without authorization is a federal crime.
But, it’s not that simple. The NY Times would have a pretty strong First Amendment defense that what they’re doing here is very much in the public interest. After all, Trump himself has made his tax returns (and his supposed acumen as a business man) an issue in this campaign by refusing to release them, despite every other major party candidate for President releasing tax returns going back decades (and even Trump himself mocked Mitt Romney for taking too long to release his own tax returns in 2012). So there’s no argument here that this isn’t newsworthy. It clearly is, and that certainly helps the NY Times’s case. To me it seems like it should be a clear First Amendment win for the Times — and plenty of others agree.
Plus, there’s the fact that if Trump actually did sue, he’d have to admit the returns are really his and are accurate.
On top of that, Trump himself is regularly talking about getting information out there that hasn’t been disclosed through authorized means. Remember, he’s “joked” about asking hackers to release Hillary Clinton’s emails. And just a few days ago, he tweeted for people to go searching for a former Miss Universe’s sex tape in order to discredit her comments about how Trump had treated her.
Who knows if Trump is seriously going to pursue legal action — in the past he’s happily admitted to filing SLAPP lawsuits designed to cost whoever he sues money, even if he knows there’s no chance of succeeding — but if he does, it could become a pretty important First Amendment case… from someone who has already made it clear that he has no respect at all for the First Amendment.