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'Fire and Fury' book publisher defies Trump cease-and-desist order

by Corky Siemaszko /  / Updated 

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The publisher of Michael Wolff's explosive new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” delivered a message Monday to the White House: We won't back down.

Leaders of the publishing company said they have no intention of honoring the cease-and-desist order that President Donald Trump's lawyer fired off to derail publication of the book that has roiled Washington and infuriated the commander in chief and his supporters. The book was published by Henry Holt and Co., which is owned by Macmillan Publishing.

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“The president is free to call news ‘fake’ and to blast the media,” wrote John Sargent, Macmillan's CEO. “That goes against convention but is not unconstitutional. But a demand to cease and desist publication — a clear effort by the President of the United States to intimidate a publisher in halting publication of an important book on the workings of the government — is an attempt to achieve what is called prior restraint."

“That,” Sargent wrote, “is something that no American court would order, as it is flagrantly unconstitutional.”

Framing this as a First Amendment fight and buttressing his argument with landmark free-speech opinions by Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Warren Burger, Sargent declared this was “about much more than 'Fire and Fury.'”

“There is no ambiguity here,” he wrote. “This is an underlying principle of our democracy. We cannot stand silent. We will not allow any president to achieve by intimidation what our Constitution precludes him or her from achieving in court.”

Sargent said the company was resisting the demand not just on behalf of “Wolff and his book, but also for all authors and their books, now and in the future.”

Image: Copies of the book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House"
Copies of the book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" by author Michael Wolff at the Book Culture book store in New York on Jan. 5, 2018.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

“And as citizens we must demand that President Trump understand and abide by the First Amendment of our Constitution,” he wrote.

Henry Holt's lawyer, Elizabath McNamara, echoed Sargent in a three-page letter to one of Trump's lawyers, Charles Harder.

"You demand that my clients cease publication of the book and 'issue a full and complete retraction and apology,'" she wrote. "My clients do not intend to cease publication, no such retraction will occur, and no apology is warranted."

McNamara noted that Harder's cease-and-desist letter does not identify "a single statement in the book that is factually false or defamatory." Instead, she wrote, "the letter appears to be designed to silence legitimate criticism."

"This is the antithesis of an actionable libel claim," McNamara wrote.

The show of defiance came three days after the first excerpts from Wolff’s 336-page volume went online, causing a sensation with, among other things, claims from former Trump administration and campaign aide Steve Bannon that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

It portrayed Trump as a surrounded by bickering aides who openly question “his intelligence and fitness for office.”

Trump responded by declaring that Bannon had “lost his mind” and branding Wolff a “total loser.” Then both he and Team Trump insisted the book was a pack of lies

On Friday, Harder sent Wolff and his publisher a letter demanding that the book, which had already reached No. 1 on the Amazon best-seller list, not be published or disseminated.

In a conversation published Monday on the NBC News "Think" section, Wolff said Trump's effort to shut down his book "ranges somewhere between ludicrous and frightening."

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