On August 13, President Trump’s legal counsel sent a cease-and-desist letter to Simon & Schuster, threatening legal action if the publisher proceeded with the publication of former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman’s tell-all account of her time in the Trump administration, Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House.
The lawyer for Trump’s presidential campaign, Charles Harder, sent the letter the day before the book’s scheduled publication date, claiming that the book contains “confidential information and disparaging statements” and that it violates a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed by Manigault Newman. The letter asserts that Trump’s campaign “reserves the right to bring these and other claims against you, for which you would have joint and several liability with Ms. Manigault Newman, for substantial monetary damages and punitive damages.”
Simon & Schuster moved ahead with the publication of Unhinged as scheduled. In response to the letter from Trump’s lawyers, Elizabeth McNamara, counsel for Simon & Schuster, stated that “my clients will not be intimidated by hollow legal threats.” McNamara further argued that the Trump campaign “does not have a viable claim merely because unspecified truthful statements in the book may embarrass the president and his associates.” She stated that an NDA cannot be used to censor either Manigault Newman, a former government official speaking about non-classified information learned during the course of employment, or Simon & Schuster, a publisher legitimately reporting on newsworthy information of public concern.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher strongly defended Simon & Schuster’s decision. “Once again, we are witnessing an appalling abuse of executive power in President Trump’s legal attempt to exert prior restraint to stop the publication of the book. It’s hard to overstate the chilling effects on free speech this action would have if successful. Authors and publishers would be deterred from publishing books critical of this administration — or future administrations — which would severely curtail the robust debate of ideas and exchange of opinions that is critical for a healthy democracy. ABA defends to the utmost the First Amendment rights and freedom of publishers to publish and sell titles — especially controversial titles or titles that might vex powerful elected officials. This is a hallmark of our cultural and political legacy as Americans.”
Fifteen free expression organizations, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), condemned President Trump’s efforts to threaten a book publisher in a joint statement released August 17. In the statement, the organizations criticize the president’s attempts at censorship: “We stand in solidarity against threats by the president and his administration that undermine our country’s commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Efforts to restrict these freedoms are the hallmark of a totalitarian regime.”
This action by Trump’s lawyers marks the second time this year that the president has attempted to silence critics by threatening publishers with legal action. In January, Harder sent a similar letter on behalf of the president to Henry Holt & Co. and author Michael Wolff demanding that they cease and desist from publishing Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Despite the threat, the president did not file a lawsuit after Henry Holt elected to publish the book ahead of schedule.