Reince Priebus: We’ve ‘Looked at’ Changing Libel Laws

Donald Trump's obsession with the press has taken a dangerous turn, as his chief of staff said the administration is looking into changing libel laws.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on Sunday that the Trump administration has “looked into” the possibility of changing the country’s libel laws in order to make it easier to sue news organizations.

“I think it’s something that we’ve looked at, and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story,” Priebus said on ABC’s This Week. “But when you have articles out there that have no basis or fact and we’re sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters.”

President Donald Trump has made the suggestion at least twice as both a candidate and as president. During the campaign last year, Trump said he wanted to “open up” libel laws, and last month he suggested a “change” in the laws as part of his continued attacks on The New York Times.

“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump said at a campaign rally last February. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace, or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

Any such change would likely require a constitutional amendment that would alter the language of the First Amendment, as there are no federal libel laws. Libel, by definition, is written defamation intended to harm someone’s reputation or character. It is difficult to prove in court, as there must be evidence that the information was published maliciously, with the knowledge that it was inaccurate.

Priebus’ comments come on the heels of the White House Correspondents Dinner, the annual celebration of the First Amendment and the freedom of the press. Trump decided in February that he would not attend the dinner, in a break with tradition.

“I think that newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news,” Priebus added on Sunday.