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Trump Renews Pledge to ‘Take a Strong Look’ at Libel Laws

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“President Trump’s threat to revise our country’s libel laws is, frankly, not credible,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump’s remarks reflected a broader frustration in his inner circle over critical coverage in recent days that has cast him as an erratic and ill-prepared commander in chief.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed News for publishing, last January, a salacious and mostly unsubstantiated intelligence dossier that purported to describe how Russia had aided the Trump campaign. The dossier characterized Mr. Cohen as a central figure in what it described as a globe-spanning conspiracy.

Mr. Cohen also filed a separate suit in federal court against Fusion GPS, the research firm that prepared the dossier. Fusion GPS and BuzzFeed both said they would aggressively defend themselves against the suits.

Last week, a lawyer working on Mr. Trump’s behalf, Charles J. Harder of Harder Mirell & Abrams in Beverly Hills, Calif., sent an 11-page cease-and-desist letter to the publisher of Mr. Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

Mr. Harder’s letter demanded that the publisher, Henry Holt and Company, withdraw the book from stores and apologize; the publisher responded by moving up the book’s release date and increasing its first print run to one million copies, from 150,000.

Mr. Trump’s remarks on Wednesday about libel law seemed, at times, to refer obliquely to the book, which debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, and has provided fodder for dozens of news articles, opinion pieces and cable news segments.

“We want fairness,” the president said. “Can’t say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account. We are going to take a very, very strong look at that, and I think what the American people want to see is fairness.”

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump made sport of the reporters who stood in fenced-off areas during his speeches, often whipping up the crowd against them.

He also said on the campaign trail that he would “open up” the country’s libel laws — although he later backed off that pledge in an interview with editors and writers at The Times, joking that he personally might be in trouble if the laws were loosened.

“Somebody said to me on that, they said, ‘You know, it’s a great idea softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more,’” Mr. Trump, who propagated false rumors that Barack Obama was born in Africa and that the father of Senator Ted Cruz had aided the assassination of John F. Kennedy, said at the time.

Mr. Trump is no stranger to defamation claims, having filed several of them himself, without success. In 2009, a New Jersey judge dismissed a $5 billion suit brought by Mr. Trump against a biographer, Timothy L. O’Brien; Mr. Trump had claimed that Mr. O’Brien understated his personal wealth.

The president’s comments about the news media on Wednesday also extended to one of his favorite punching bags: network news. He taunted the television reporters in the room, saying they were dependent on his activities for ratings.

“If Trump doesn’t win in three years, they’re all out of business,” the president said. “You’re all out of business.”

He also claimed that network anchors had sent him “letters of congratulations” on Tuesday about a cabinet meeting that was broadcast on television that day.

“A lot of those anchors sent us letters saying that was one of the greatest meetings they’ve ever witnessed,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he had received “about two hours” of positive coverage from news networks, “and then they went a little bit south on us.” (White House aides said later that the “letters” in question referred to complimentary tweets from journalists.)

“They probably wish they didn’t send us those letter of congratulations, but it was good,” Mr. Trump added. “I’m sure their ratings were fantastic.”

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