The Real Reason Trump and Roy Moore Never Sued the Media — Or Their Accusers

We saw a lot of craziness during the 2016 presidential campaign, but things really got heated when The New York Times published an article titled “Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately.” The Access Hollywood tape had gone live just days before, and the Times offered evidence of a much bigger story.

Trump lawyers acted quickly, saying the story “constituted libel.” Lawsuits would follow, they said, if the paper did not pull the story. The Times stood by its work, and Trump never sued.

Roy Moore, running for Senator of Alabama in 2017, followed the same playbook. The Washington Post ran a damaging story, his lawyers threatened to sue, and Moore backed down. Both men also threatened the women making sexual allegations against them, and the plot was identical: first, threats of lawsuits; second, radio silence.

What makes President Trump and the former Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court afraid of the media (and women from their past)? Here are the reasons Trump and Moore never sued the media or their accusers — and never will. 

1. Who would Trump sue first?

Donald Trump removes his hat to show that his hair

He claims they all lied and would be sued.  | Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Besides the news outlets, there were 19 women who’d accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years. Even for someone who has time for golf and cable news, we have a hard time believing he could launch so many lawsuits as a sitting president.

Still, Trump did not mince words on the campaign trail. “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign,” he said. “The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.”

He hasn’t sued a single one. As for the Times story, there is a statute of limitations on libel suits, so Trump has been on the clock.

Next: Regarding the Times lawsuit Trump threatened, time’s up.

2. Trump can’t sue The New York Times anymore.

Us President Donald Trump walks from Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House as he returns from his weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago, on February 12, 2017, in Washington, DC.

His time is up to sue for libel. | Molly Riley/AFP/Getty Images

On October 12, 2017, the statute of limitations on libel suits (one year) for the Times’ groping story expired. According to The Hollywood Reporter, there’s still a chance Trump could take it up in a different state, but all signs point to his lawyers’ cease-and-desist letter being an empty threat.

For those of you wondering when Roy Moore will take on The Washington Post and Alabama Media Group, there’s a more obvious reason not to hold your breath.

Next: Roy Moore can’t afford to sue one person — let alone eight and two newspapers.

3. Roy Moore is broke.

roy moore closeup in a white shirt, dark suit, red tie

He claims he’s struggling to make ends meet. | Drew Angerer/AFP/Getty Images

For Roy Moore, eight women had come forward with similar accusations by the time Alabama voters went to the polls in 2017. He’d threatened to sue at least some of them in addition to the Post and local Alabama papers.

Unfortunately for the former judge, Moore wouldn’t have the money to sue them even if he wanted to. Moore logged onto Facebook in March 2018 in hopes of raising funds for his legal defense, The Daily Beast reported. Leigh Corfman, who recounted stories of Moore molesting her, got tired of hearing her name dragged through the mud and sued Moore for defamation.

Moore sounded beside himself (or possibly in fundraising mode). “My resources have been depleted and I have struggled to make ends meet,” he wrote in his Facebook plea. If Moore loses, he’ll end paying legal fees for both parties.

Next: Trump and Moore don’t have good cases against the media.

4. Proving libel would be a long-shot.

Newspapers have a fact checker for a reason. | Dmitry Brizhatyuk/Shutterstock

You don’t see this happen with presidential tweets or campaign speeches, but newspapers check facts and verify sources before publishing. Besides needing to stay credible with the public, papers face libel charges if they knowingly publish false information.

However, there is a high bar in place for libel suits against public officials. A newspaper would have to publish something false and demonstrate “actual malice” in the process.

With institutions like the Post and Times, it’s not going to happen. Stories run after they pass through a rigorous fact-checking process, and editors correct mistakes as soon as they discover them.

Next: The preliminary part of a lawsuit could be Trump’s undoing. 

5. Trump’s Achilles heel is “discovery.”

Jessica Drake, Temple Taggart, Gloria Allred, Summer Zervos and Rachel Crooks stand in solidarity

Everything would be dug up. | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Let’s say lawyers for Trump wanted to go all the way and sue the Times and every accuser as promised. Before the trial took place, both parties would go through the process of “reciprocal discovery,” which means putting your cards on the table.

According to legal analyst Danny Cevallos, the parties to a lawsuit can “force disclosure … of any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense.” In other words, the Times would have to show the work it put into the article, and Trump would have to produce all documents a judge deemed relevant.

Such a process would open up some very dark areas of Trump’s past. It just wouldn’t be worth the risk in this scandal-ridden administration.

Next: It would be worse with the women who accused Moore and Trump of sexual harassment.

6. Tapes of The Apprentice and other records could surface.

summer zervos in court for her defamation lawsuit against trump

Summer Zervos is filing a defamation lawsuit. | David McNew/Getty Images

Summer Zervos, a contestant on “The Apprentice,” began suing Trump for defamation after he called her accusations of sexual assault “lies.” According to reporting by PBS, there is a solid chance the lawsuit could go forward, as a similar one did against Bill Clinton in the ’90s.

While Zervos is only seeking a modest sum to pay for expenses, the larger question is what the judge could allow during discovery. In Trump’s case, unreleased “Apprentice” footage and other documents could become part of the package.

Next: If no one sued Michael Wolff for Fire and Fury…

7. Fire and Fury exposed Trump’s threats as empty.

Copies of the book "Fire and Fury" by author Michael Wolff are displayed on a shelf at Book Passage on January 5, 2018 in Corte Madera, California.

The book drove Trump crazy, but he can’t actually do anything about it. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While the Post and Times are incredibly scrupulous in their fact-checking, Michael Wolff made no such pretense with the wild, gossip-tinged Fire and Fury. Wolff’s book featured an incredible amount of access inside the White House, with Steve Bannon serving as a primary source.

Naturally, the stories Wolff told in this bestselling book infuriated Trump, who once again threatened a lawsuit. Considering such a suit would involve putting recorded interviews with White House staff on the record, it would put Trump in an even more awkward position.

Next: When it comes to lawsuits, Trump is more bark than bite.

8. Trump talks about lawsuits more than he sues.

You win some, you lose some.

He talks bigger than he acts. | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If you look back over the years, Trump has threatened to sue Ted Cruz, NBC, Harry Reid, U.S. Golf Association, and the GOP, among others. Nothing came of any of those suits.

Maybe Trump is just a guy who talks a lot but fails to back it up with action, sort of a schoolyard bully with a legal team — one that is financed by his supporters’ campaign donations.

As Leigh Corfman, Summer Zervos, and now Stormy Daniels has proved, women with the courage of their convictions don’t share Moore and Trump’s fear.

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