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Trump Says Congress Won’t Change Libel Laws, But That’s A Decision For States

President Donald Trump criticized the United States Congress for a lack of willingness to look into libel laws, even though libel is regulated from state to state, in a new interview with the Wall Street Journal published Thursday.

Trump told the Journal that the explosive book on his administration, Fire and Fury, showed the need for new libel laws but that Congress doesn’t have the “guts” to do so. There are currently no federal libel laws in the U.S. that Congress could re-examine, as the criteria for libel is typically left to each state to decide. 

The president’s interview doubles down on comments he made to the press on Wednesday during a public Cabinet session.

“Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace, and do not represent American values or American fairness,” Trump said. “So we’re going to take a strong look at that. We want fairness. You can’t say things that are false — knowingly false — and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account. We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the American people want to see is fairness.” 

It is unlikely that Congress could actually do anything to change libel laws as they stand, or make it easier for Trump to successfully sue Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff for defamation.

Public officials and figures must prove actual malice in libel cases, meaning that false statements about officials are protected unless the reporter published the information with reckless disregard for the truth. The Supreme Court established the actual malice criteria in 1964 with the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case. 

Trump also discussed his relationship with North Korea in the interview.

“I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” Trump told the Journal. “I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.”

The president framed his use of Twitter to spread derogatory names for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, such as “rocket man,” as part of a strategy. 

“You’ll see that a lot with me,” he said about combative tweets, “and then all of the sudden somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I’m a very flexible person.”

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