NEW YORK — Donald Trump is suing biographer Timothy O’Brien and publisher Warner Books for $5 billion in damages over allegations in O’Brien’s book “TrumpNation” that Trump is not, in fact, a billionaire.
Citing defamation, the real estate mogul and “Apprentice” star says O’Brien and Warner engaged in a “malicious scheme” to harm his reputation.
Trump has publicly counted his net worth as exceeding several billion dollars and points to a Forbes report that called a $2.7 billion estimate conservative. O’Brien has said Trump’s net worth comes in at $150 million-$250 million.
In the complaint, Trump’s attorneys assign ill motives to O’Brien and his publisher. “The obvious purpose of that malicious scheme and those vile statements is to embarrass Trump, to damage him in his business and professional dealings and to create publicity in order to increase sales of O’Brien’s newly released book,” it states.
In a statement, Warner Books said, “Mr. O’Brien is an award-winning, veteran business reporter with the New York Times, and his work, as does his book ‘TrumpNation,’ speak for themselves.” O’Brien, Warner added, “welcomes the opportunity to meet with Mr. Trump personally at any time and in any forum.”
The defendants have a 30-day period to respond to the suit.
Lawsuit cites “The Apprentice” as one of the main targets of O’Brien’s alleged misrepresentation. The suit says Trump’s value as a brand “depends on the accurate perception by the financial community and public that Trump is a billionaire.”
Move follows months of saber-rattling from Trump over both the book and O’Brien interviews.
Trump has said he allowed O’Brien to come to his offices and investigate his finances. But the complaint, in a strange digression, alleges that O’Brien spent a three-hour visit to Trump’s office not scrutinizing the mogul’s books but “inappropriately try(ing) to pressure” one of Trump’s lawyers “to go on a date with him.”
Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz says the mogul intends to go to court and will prove defamation as well as extensive monetary damage as a result of O’Brien’s claims. “Mr. Trump is playing at the highest levels of business, so that if he’s harmed, the damage is significant. And we will prove it.”
But First Amendment expert Martin Garbus believes the lawsuit won’t hold up. “I think the book is totally protected,” he said. “Trump would have to prove both deliberate falsity and that he lost something as a result of that falsity. I don’t think he can do that.”
Even if Trump doesn’t win, experts say the lawsuit could have the effect of protecting Trump’s billionaire — and bulldog — status, which, given his admitted place in the media firmament, could be a victory in its own right.