Lawyers for Donald Trump want The New York Times to retract a bombshell report about two women who claim that Trump touched them inappropriately.
The Times is standing by the story.
Trump aides said Thursday that the GOP nominee is preparing a lawsuit against the newspaper. “Lawyers are doing the due diligence needed to file such a massive suit,” one of the campaign officials said on condition of anonymity.
Legal experts have doubts that Trump will actually file such a suit, however.
The Times story featured two women, Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks, who said that Trump made inappropriate physical advances on them. CNN has not been able to independently confirm their accounts.
When Times reporter Megan Twohey interviewed Trump by phone Tuesday night, “he threatened to sue us if we published these allegations,” Twohey told CNNMoney. She quoted Trump as saying that “none of this ever took place.” She said Trump shouted at her and called her “a disgusting human being.”
Twohey also received a legal letter from a Trump attorney Wednesday afternoon. The Times published the story online shortly before 7 p.m. Eastern.
“I think it is pretty evident this story falls clearly in the realm of public service journalism, and discussing issues that arose from the tape and his comments since it surfaced,” Times executive editor Dean Baquet told CNNMoney.
The legal threats continued Wednesday night. “NYT editors, reporters, politically motivated accusers better lawyer up,” a Trump campaign official said.
Shortly after midnight Thursday, a lawyer representing Trump, Marc E. Kasowitz, sent a letter to Baquet saying “your article is reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel per se.”
“We hereby demand that you immediately cease any further publication of this article, remove it from your website and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology. Failure to do so will leave my client with no option but to purse all available actions and remedies,” Kasowitz wrote.
The letter lacks any substantive facts to cast doubt on the Times story, and is not a lawsuit.
What might happen next? High-ranking sources within the Trump campaign said they were “drafting” lawsuits against both the Times and The Palm Beach Post, which published a separate story in which another women claimed Trump had groped her.
A lawyer for Trump similarly threatened to sue The Times when it published several pages of his 1995 tax return earlier this month.
If the Trump campaign does proceed with lawsuits, it would be a break from past practice, and it will give both the Times and the Post the opportunity to pursue discovery and request information on Trump’s entire sexual history, because Trump would have the burden of proving falsity and actual malice.
In the Times story, Leeds alleges that Trump, whom she says she had never met before, grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt while the two were on an airplane more than three decades ago. Crooks, who worked in Trump Tower at a company that Trump did not own, says Trump kissed her outside an elevator after she introduced herself. The Post features a woman named Mindy McGillivray who says she was groped by Trump at Mar-a-Lago when she was 23.
Late Wednesday night, People Magazine also published a report by one of its writers, Natasha Stoynoff, in which she alleged that she had been physically attacked by Trump at Mar-a-Lago while writing a profile on Trump’s one-year wedding anniversary to his wife Melania. The Trump campaign did not respond to request for comment regarding that story, but a Trump spokesperson told People, “This never happened. There is no merit or veracity to this fabricated story.”
In a statement on the Times’ report earlier on Wednesday night, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said the “entire article is fiction.”
“For the New York Times to launch a completely false, coordinated character assassination against Mr. Trump on a topic like this is dangerous,” Miller said in the statement. “To reach back decades in an attempt to smear Mr. Trump trivializes sexual assault, and it sets a new low for where the media is willing to go in its efforts to determine this election.”
“It is absurd to think that one of the most recognizable business leaders on the planet with a strong record of empowering women in his companies would do the things alleged in this story, and for this to only become public decades later in the final month of a campaign for president should say it all,” his statement continued.
Twohey said Crooks, who was was initially reluctant to speak publicly, reached out to the newspaper after it published a story in May titled “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private.”
Leeds, the other woman in the Times article, contacted the newspaper after Sunday’s debate, when Trump was asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper if he had ever done the things he described in that video.
“No, I have not,” Trump said.
Michael Barbaro, who co-bylined the story with Twohey, tweeted Wednesday night, “This story might not have happened unless @andersoncooper had asked the pointed questions he did at debate.”
The Times report comes in the wake of the release of a 2005 recording in which Trump boasted about being able to kiss women and grope them in ways that would amount to sexual assault.