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Trump sues Bob Woodward for releasing audio of their interviews without permission

Former President Donald Trump is suing <em>Washington Post</em> journalist Bob Woodward over Woodward's latest book, <em>T</em><em>he Trump Tapes</em>.
Tasos Katopodis
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Getty Images for Audi Canada and Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump is suing Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward over Woodward's latest book, The Trump Tapes.

Former President Donald Trump has made good on his threat to sue Bob Woodward over the Washington Post journalist's latest book, accusing him of releasing audio recordings of their interviews without his consent and seeking nearly $50 million in damages.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the Northern District of Florida, also names publisher Simon & Schuster and its parent company, Paramount Global, as defendants. It accuses Woodward of the "systematic usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation of audio" in violation of Trump's contractual rights and copyright interests.

At issue is the audiobook The Trump Tapes: Bob Woodward's Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump, which was published in October 2022 and consists of recordings of more than a dozen interviews the two had done during Trump's final year in office.

Those interviews — conducted with Trump's full cooperation at the White House and Mar-a-Lago between December 2019 and August 2020 — formed the basis of Woodward's 2020 book Rage. It made headlines for revealing, among other things, the extent to which Trump had downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump alleges that when Rage failed to reach the same level of commercial success as Fear, Woodward's 2018 book focused on the Trump White House, the journalist and publisher "conspired to, and did, collate and cobble together more than eight hours of 'raw' interviews" and released them in audiobook format "without President Trump's permission."

The lawsuit also accuses those involved of unlawfully manipulating audio by selectively omitting portions of Trump's answers. Trump described it as "an open and blatant attempt to make me look as bad as possible," in a series of Truth Social posts on Monday.

"Paramount, SSI, and Woodward deviated from industry standard practices, did not obtain the requisite releases, misappropriated President Trump's copyright interests, manipulated the recordings to benefit Woodward's desired narrative while peddling the story that the recordings are 'raw,' and deprived President Trump of the opportunity to publish or not to publish his words, read in his voice," the complaint reads.

The book has since been published in other forms, including a paperback and electronic book. Based on the price of each audiobook, the lawsuit is seeking more than $49 million, not including punitive damages and attorney's fees.

Woodward and Simon & Schuster have responded with a joint statement calling the lawsuit "without merit" and promising to "aggressively defend against it."

"All these interviews were on the record and recorded with President Trump's knowledge and agreement," reads the statement provided to NPR. "Moreover, it is in the public interest to have this historical record in Trump's own words. We are confident that the facts and the law are in our favor."

The lawsuit is far from a surprise — it's Trump's M.O.

Trump said at the time of the audiobook's release that he would sue Woodward — whom he called "very sleazy" — to be compensated for the sale of tapes that he claims belong to him.

The lawsuit is Trump's latest attempt to discredit journalists and others who have been critical of him.

"I am continuing my fight against this corrupt, dishonest, and deranged Fake News Media by filing this lawsuit against a man whose image is far different from the fact, Bob Woodward, his publisher Simon & Schuster, and their parent company, Paramount Global," Trump, who has actively peddled election disinformation, wrote on Truth Social, adding that "I will always champion TRUTH and battle against the evil forces of disinformation and Fake News!"

In October 2022 Trump sued CNN for alleged defamation, seeking $475 million in damages. The following month he sued New York Attorney General Letitia James for intimidation.

That was one of two lawsuits Trump withdrew in recent weeks, after a Florida judge fined him and his attorney nearly $1 million for bringing what he deemed a "completely frivolous" lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other political rivals.

U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks accused Trump of a "pattern of abuse of the courts" for filing frivolous lawsuits for political purposes, which he said "undermines the rule of law" and "amounts to obstruction of justice," as the Associated Press reported earlier this month.

Trump and his business have also been on the receiving end of numerous lawsuits.

Among them: A federal judge ruled earlier this month that writer E. Jean Carroll can proceed with rape and defamation claims against Trump and a New York court ordered two companies owned by the former president to pay $1.61 million in fines and penalties for tax fraud.

Meanwhile, a grand jury in Manhattan is hearing evidence this week about whether Trump committed crimes over hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.