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.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

MORE FROM

Reporter takes Sarah Huckabee Sanders to task during briefing over "inflammatory" media comments

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed "fake news" and went after CNN.

Don’t count out the Senate Republicans' health care bill. Here’s how it could still pass.

It's a narrow path, but there's still a chance Republicans will pass a health care repeal bill.

These are the front pages undecided GOP senators woke up to this morning

The hometown press is making sure people know that millions will lose insurance if this bill passes.

Donald Trump hangs a fake "Time" cover bearing his photo at his golf courses

The 'Washington Post' reported that the cover appears at at least four of his courses.

Watchdogs urge White House to stop hiding behind "cowardly" bully pulpit and televise briefings

The nonpartisan group Common Cause says the administration shows contempt for the First Amendment.

Senate Republicans postpone health care vote amid growing opposition

The Senate will no longer vote on the Republican health care plan before the July 4 holiday.

Reporter takes Sarah Huckabee Sanders to task during briefing over "inflammatory" media comments

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed "fake news" and went after CNN.

Don’t count out the Senate Republicans' health care bill. Here’s how it could still pass.

It's a narrow path, but there's still a chance Republicans will pass a health care repeal bill.

These are the front pages undecided GOP senators woke up to this morning

The hometown press is making sure people know that millions will lose insurance if this bill passes.

Donald Trump hangs a fake "Time" cover bearing his photo at his golf courses

The 'Washington Post' reported that the cover appears at at least four of his courses.

Watchdogs urge White House to stop hiding behind "cowardly" bully pulpit and televise briefings

The nonpartisan group Common Cause says the administration shows contempt for the First Amendment.

Senate Republicans postpone health care vote amid growing opposition

The Senate will no longer vote on the Republican health care plan before the July 4 holiday.