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President Trump on Wednesday called for tougher libel laws, saying the current iteration is a "sham and a disgrace" as he addressed his Cabinet and reporters at the White House.
"Can't say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account," Trump said at his Cabinet meeting. "We are going to take a very, very strong look at that."
Conservatives and liberals have largely agreed that there should be a high bar for libel claims from public officials, requiring the officials to show actual malice — or that the news organization knew the claims were false before publishing them.
Trump's complaints about libel are not new; he has somewhat regularly called for tougher libel laws as he has smarted over news coverage, decried "fake" news and pointed out corrections from news outlets. Those calls have drawn sharp denunciations from legal scholars and news organizations.
The president has been particularly aggrieved after the publication of Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," which depicts his White House as chaotic, beset by infighting and incompetent, at least in the early days of his administration. The president has also uttered a number of falsehoods about others, such as saying then-President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. According to The Washington Post's Fact Checker, Trump has made about 2,000 false or misleading statements since taking office.
It is unlikely that Congress would take up a move to change libel laws.
The meeting was unlike past Cabinet meetings, which have been marked by officials praising the president. Trump recited a number of accomplishments from his administration, including the tax bill that passed last year, the rising economy and the appointment of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
The president said his position on the border wall will "never change," but on DACA, we "want to see something." Democrats are resistant to making a deal on immigration that includes money for a wall along the southern border.
Legislators have until early March to find a compromise for the immigration program that allows undocumented children to stay in the United States, and Trump has said the bill needs to have "love." He has not said exactly what he wants in return for keeping the program.
The president seemed buoyant after his lengthy immigration meeting Tuesday, in which he allowed reporters to watch 55 minutes of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, with him leading the charge. He gave a remarkable glimpse into how he sees the presidency, offering little guidance on details but basking in showmanship and dealmaking.
"Welcome back to the studio," he told reporters entering the Cabinet Room, noting there had been "phenomenal" praise for his "performance."
He said, without providing evidence or details, that TV anchors had sent him letters thanking him for letting so much of the negotiations happen on camera. He said that coverage changed after a couple of hours but that he expected the media to eventually be more supportive of him.
"If Trump doesn't win in three years," he said, "they're all out of business. You're all out of business."
Josh Dawsey is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. He joined the paper in 2017. He previously covered the White House for Politico, and New York City Hall and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the Wall Street Journal. Follow
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