Former President Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit against The New York Times, three of its reporters, and his niece—claiming they hatched an “insidious plot” to obtain his private records for a story about his tax history.
The lawsuit alleges that the newspaper convinced Mary Trump to “smuggle records out of her attorney’s office and turn them over to the Times” despite a confidentiality agreement she signed in 2001 while settling a legal battle over the will of Frederick Trump, Donald’s father and Mary’s grandfather.
The suit, filed Tuesday in Dutchess County, New York, by attorney Alina Habba, seeks damages “in an amount to be determined at trial, but believed to be no less than One Hundred Million Dollars” from both Mary Trump and the Times.
It follows a suit filed by Charles Harder on behalf of Donald Trump’s brother Robert to try and stop Mary Trump and publisher Simon & Schuster from releasing her memoir, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.
Judge Hal Greenwald ruled in that case that the 2001 confidentiality agreement had been too vaguely defined to stop her from writing about the sitting president and noted that her publisher had not been a signatory to that agreement. Robert Trump died in August 2020.
Times reporters David Barstow, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner—who won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 2019 for what they revealed about the taxes the former president had refused to disclose, and how little he’d paid in federal income taxes—also weren’t party to the confidentiality agreement Mary Trump had signed in 2001. But the ex-president’s new suit claims they were “directly responsible” for it allegedly being broken, citing Mary Trump’s interview with Molly Jong-Fast on The Daily Beast’s The New Abnormal podcast and claiming the reporters were “motivated, at least in part, by their actual malice” toward Trump:
Molly Jong-Fast: You were ultimately the source for the tax story.
Mary Trump: Yeah, um, I’m actually really proud of that. But I have to be honest with you, I didn’t even remember I had [the Confidential Records]. It’s entirely down to the brilliant Susanne Craig for, one, reminding me that I had them and, two, so effectively and tenaciously trying to convince—I mean it took her months before I did—so it’s entirely down to her.
“I think he is a fucking loser, and he is going to throw anything against the wall he can,” said Mary Trump of her uncle’s new suit. “It’s desperation. The walls are closing in and he is throwing anything against the wall that will stick. As is always the case with Donald, he’ll try and change the subject.”
In something of the same spirit in which the former president often credited himself with boosting ratings at the news networks he considered his enemies, the suit notes that “the 2018 article received a record-breaking amount of attention, garnering more views than any previous article in the Times’ history,” as “the stock price of the Times rose 7.4% during the week of the publication of the 2018 article.”
A spokesperson for the paper told The Daily Beast on Tuesday night that “The Times’ coverage of Donald Trump’s taxes helped inform citizens through meticulous reporting on a subject of overriding public interest. This lawsuit is an attempt to silence independent news organizations and we plan to vigorously defend against it.”
Craig said in a tweet: “I knocked on Mary Trump’s door. She opened it. I think they call that journalism.”
After the filing of the suit, a spokesperson for Donald Trump issued a somewhat cryptic statement on his behalf suggesting more litigation could be on the horizon.
“More to come, including on other people, and Fake News media,” Trump said.
Mary Trump’s attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. added in a statement to The Daily Beast: “This is the latest in a long line of frivolous lawsuits by Donald Trump that target truthful speech and important journalism on issues of public concern. It is doomed to failure like the rest of his baseless efforts to chill freedom of speech and of the press.”
Trump himself is the target of a lawsuit linked to the estate dispute. Shortly after Mary Trump’s book was published, she sued the then-president; his sister, retired federal appeals court Judge Maryanne Trump Barry; and the executor of the estates of his late brother Robert, accusing them of stealing millions of dollars from her after the 1981 death of her father, Frederick Trump Jr.
“For Donald J. Trump, his sister Maryanne, and their late brother Robert, fraud was not just the family business—it was a way of life,” her lawsuit says. “All told, they fleeced her of tens of millions of dollars or more.”
—Asawin Suebsaeng contributed to this report.