Fresh off an unsuccessful bid to have a federal court block the publication of former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s tell-all book about the Trump White House Administration, those associated with the president are at it again.
This time President Trump’s younger brother, Robert S. Trump, filed his own injunction against another author of another upcoming book.
The twist? This time the target is none other than another member of the Trump family.
Mary L. Trump is the niece of the president and his brother Robert Trump, and the daughter of the president’s late brother, Fred Trump Jr. Mary Trump, a trained clinical psychologist with a PhD, has penned the book titled “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” It is scheduled by release by her publisher, Simon and Schuster, on July 28.
The publisher described the book as an “authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him. . . . [It] shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncles became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.”
Robert Trump filed the lawsuit last week in Queens County Surrogate’s Court, the New York court that handled estate of the president’s father, Fred Trump Sr. The court promptly dismissed the lawsuit because it no longer has jurisdiction over the probate matter.
So Trump’s lawyer refiled the complaint in a lower court in Dutchess County, New York, where Robert has a home and the president owns a golf course.
The suit seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent publication of her book because it allegedly violates a nondisclosure agreement reached when the family was battling over the proceeds of Fred Trump Sr.’s estate upon his death nearly 20 years ago.
And this is where it gets ugly, unfortunately. Apparently Fred Sr. and Fred Jr. had a falling out after Fred Jr. opted out of the family business. Fred Sr. allegedly then exacted retribution against Fred Jr.’s children in writing a new will. As The New York Times reported:
“When Fred Trump Sr. died in 1989, he all but cut out Fred Trump Jr.’s two children, Mary and her brother, Fred Trump III, from his will, leaving them only with a small cash bequest. Ms. Trump and her brother contested the will and sued Donald Trump and his siblings, arguing that they poisoned Fred Trump Sr. against them and coerced him to chance how he left his fortune.”
The acrimony within the family apparently was intense. The New York Times continues:
“It was a nasty court battle, and at one point Donald Trump and his brother and sister cut off the medical benefits to Fred Trump III’s infant child, who was born with severe medical issues requiring expensive and intense care.” Press reports said Fred Trump III’s son had cerebral palsy.
One needs little imagination as to why complaints about the president or his brother Robert would not want details – especially details from their estranged family relative – to be given further exposure.
But here is where we step into the light of the First Amendment.
What Robert Trump is seeking – perhaps with the approval of the president – is what in First Amendment circles is called a classic “prior restraint.”
A “prior restraint” seeks to prevent publication of print, audio or video chiefly because the opponent of such information believes it is false, libelous, invades their privacy, or otherwise infringes on their rights.
With this Trump family debate, all may be true.
And yet even if this were so, it almost certainly would not justify an injunction against publication in this instance. Generally speaking, nondisclosure agreements cannot encompass matters that preceded the signing of such agreements.
The president takes a different view. “She’s not allowed to write a book,” the president told Axios. “You know, when we settled with her and her brother, who I do have a good relationship with – she’s got a brother, Fred, who I do have a good relationship with, but when we settled, she has a total . . . signed a nondisclosure.”
The publisher’s attorney, Theodore Boutrous Jr., disagreed, saying in a statement, “President Trump and his siblings are seeking to suppress a book that will discuss matters of utmost public importance. They are pursuing this unlawful prior restraint because they do not want the public to know the truth. The courts will not tolerate this brazen violation of the First Amendment.”
Robert D. Lystad is the Executive Director of the non-profit Campaign for Free Speech, based in Washington, D.C.