(Bloomberg) — Former President Donald Trump is suing journalist Bob Woodward for releasing recordings of interviews that he gave to the journalist in 2019 and 2020, claiming he never agreed to those tapes being shared with the public.
Most Read from Bloomberg
In a lawsuit filed Monday against Woodward, Simon & Schuster Inc., and the publisher’s parent company Paramount Global, Trump claimed that although he had given Woodward consent to record their conversations “for the sole purpose of a book,” that didn’t extend to packaging those recordings as an audiobook.
“This case centers on Mr. Woodward’s systematic usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation of audio of President Trump,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
The complaint alleges violations of Trump’s copyright interests and accuses Woodward and the publisher of unjustly profiting from the tapes. Trump is seeking just under $50 million in damages, a figure his lawyers calculated assuming Woodward would sell two million copies of the audiobook at a download price of $24.99.
“Former President Trump’s lawsuit is without merit and we will aggressively defend against it. All these interviews were on the record and recorded with President Trump’s knowledge and agreement. 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,” Simon & Schuster said in a joint emailed statement with Woodward.
Trump participated in 19 interviews in-person or by phone with Woodward between December 2019 and August 2020, as well as in 2016 when he was still a candidate, according to the complaint. Woodward’s book, Rage, was published a month after the last interview. In October 2022, Simon & Schuster released the audiobook of the recordings, The Trump Tapes.
The case also accuses Woodward of misrepresenting at least one of their exchanges in the audiobook by editing out portions of the full interview. Trump had publicly complained about the recordings before, posting on his Truth Social platform shortly after the audiobook came out that he had never given Woodward permission. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist addressed the claim at the time, telling CNN that “they were done voluntarily” and “it was all on the record.”
Trump’s attorneys, Robert Garson and Yanina Zilberman, filed the case in the Pensacola division of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago estate is in Palm Beach County, has typically filed lawsuits in his home court, the Southern District of Florida. He’s claiming jurisdiction in Pensacola because he’s a Florida resident and the defendants generally do business there.
The Pensacola division’s three judges who handle civil cases are all Republican nominees – T. Kent Wetherell II, who was nominated by Trump; M. Casey Rodgers, confirmed under former President George W. Bush; and Senior Judge Roger Vinson, who was nominated by former President Ronald Reagan and takes a smaller caseload.
The case was assigned to Vinson.
Trump has a long track record of going to court over media coverage and commentary he doesn’t like. He has a pending $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN over how he’s been characterized in network broadcasts. A federal judge in Florida hasn’t ruled yet on CNN’s motion to dismiss the case.
In 2020, his campaign filed libel suits against the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN over opinion pieces related to the Russia investigation. A judge has yet to rule on the Post’s motion to dismiss, the latter two were tossed out by judges in New York and Georgia. A case he filed against the Times and his niece Mary Trump over reporting on his taxes is pending.
Before he became president, Trump lost a defamation case against journalist Timothy O’Brien, who is now senior executive editor at Bloomberg Opinion, over a 2005 biography that described him as a millionaire, not a billionaire. Separate from the cases that actually ended up in court, the Columbia Journalism Review offered an exhaustive catalog of instances when Trump or his lawyers had threatened journalists and news outlets.
The suit comes as Trump mounts a 2024 White House comeback bid. This past weekend, he visited early primary voting states New Hampshire and South Carolina as he seeks to shore up GOP support.
The suit alleges that Trump has been “harmed” by the recordings. Some of the recordings discuss topics including Trump’s correspondence with North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un and also his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in its early days.
The case is Donald J. Trump v. Simon & Schuster et al., 3:23-cv-02333, US District Court, Northern District of Florida (Pensacola).
(Updates with Woodward, Simon & Schuster statement in fifth paragraph)
Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.