The American Bar Association, fearing a libel suit, quashed a report calling Trump a “libel bully”

The “libel bully” in action.
The “libel bully” in action.
Image: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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A committee of media lawyers affiliated with the American Bar Association (ABA)—a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students in the United States—commissioned a report on Donald Trump’s litigation history which found that the Republican presidential nominee has filed numerous groundless suits against individuals who have criticized him, but never won.

Because the report labeled Trump a “libel bully,” the ABA declined to publish the report, according to The New York Times, citing “the risk of the ABA being sued by Mr. Trump.” It’s an ironic decision, given that the contents of the report apparently confirm a record of unfavorable rulings in libel suits for the so-called bully.

A spokesperson for the ABA told the Times that it only suggested “minor edits” to the report and aired “routine objections” to its tone.

“While we do not believe that such a lawsuit has merit, it is certainly reasonable to attempt to reduce such a likelihood by removing inflammatory language that is unnecessary to further the article’s thesis,” deputy executive director reportedly wrote in an email to report’s commissioners. “Honestly, it is the same advice members of the forum would provide to their own clients.”

Charles Tobin, a former director the committee in question didn’t buy the explanation. “It’s colossally inappropriate for the ABA to sponsor a group of lawyers to study free speech issues and at the same time censor their free speech,” he told the Times.

The spokesperson denied that the move derived out of some fear of suit, reiterating that the chief concern was the language used, as well as the ABA’s longstanding policy of non-partisanship.

The report itself, spearheaded by Susan Seager, a journalist-turned-First Amendment lawyer, identified seven lawsuits filed by Trump and/or his companies regarding free speech issues—among them a suit against a Chicago Tribune architecture critic (and the paper itself) who Trump believed unfairly maligned one of his branded edifices.

“Donald J. Trump is a libel bully,” the report concluded. “Like most bullies, he’s also a loser, to borrow from Trump’s vocabulary.” The ABA wished to strike this characterization, which Seager contends is the crux of her report.

“I wanted to alert media lawyers that a lot of these threats are very hollow,” she told the Times. “The ABA took out every word that was slightly critical of Donald Trump … It proved my point.”