Reince Priebus says Trump has "looked at" amending Constitution to sue journalists

Reince Priebus says Trump has "looked at" amending Constitution to sue journalists
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

President Donald Trump's chief of staff, former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, told ABC News' This Week the administration is still looking into fulfilling Trump's threat to "open up" libel laws and go after journalists.

Priebus responded in the affirmative when host Jonathan Karl asked whether the president was considering a constitutional amendment to do so — you know, pulling one over on that whole First Amendment thing. 

"I think it's something that we've looked at, and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story," Priebus said. "But when you have articles out there that have no basis or fact and we're sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters ..."

"So you think the president should be able to sue the New York Times for stories he doesn't like?" Karl responded.

"Here's the thing," Priebus shot back. "I think that, I think that newspaper and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news. I am so tired."

Priebus concluded, "I already answered the question. I said this is something that is being looked at. But it's something that as far as how it gets executed, where we go with it, that's another issue."

The president has limited authority to go after journalists for critical coverage because there are no federal libel laws, and state statutes on the matter are broadly difficult to sue under, as the ACLU noted. To win a libel case, a plaintiff must prove the defendant published a false and defamatory statement with malicious intent — and courts are generally much more discerning about what qualifies as malicious reporting than, say, Priebus seems to be.

A constitutional amendment to quash negative coverage of the administration would require a supermajority in both houses of Congress or a constitutional convention, as well as ratification by three-quarters of the states, and is thus very unlikely to happen. However, attacking the press is very popular with a significant portion of the Republicans who make up Trump's base, so the toothless threats to reform libel laws are also unlikely to stop coming anytime soon.