Breaking News: USA Today Did NOT Break the Trump Lawsuit Story. Here’s Who Did.

On November 25, 2016, the New York Times Editorial Board issued a blistering editorial entitled “Donald Trump and the Lawsuit Presidency.” With sabers raised, amid thundering hooves, the editorial proclaimed:

Donald Trump will take office as president facing a tsunami of litigation over his business practices and personal behavior. He may have settled the fraud suits involving Trump University, but at least 75 other lawsuits are underway against him or his companies, according to USA Today. Its investigation found more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades, ranging from contract disputes to real estate battles to harassment and discrimination claims.

Thus it came: The Charge of the New York Times/USA Today Light Brigade.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, New York Times and USA Today!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

USA Today’s headline blared: “Exclusive: Trump’s 3,500 lawsuits unprecedented for a presidential nominee.”

Donald Trump is a fighter, famous for legal skirmishes over everything from his golf courses to his tax bills to Trump University. But until now, it hasn’t been clear precisely how litigious he is and what that might portend for a Trump presidency.

An exclusive USA TODAY analysis of legal filings across the United States finds that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his businesses have been involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades. They range from skirmishes with casino patrons to million-dollar real estate suits to personal defamation lawsuits.

The sheer volume of lawsuits is unprecedented for a presidential nominee. No candidate of a major party has had anything approaching the number of Trump’s courtroom entanglements.

And indeed, it is so. Yet there is a problem.

This isn’t an exclusive. USA Today didn’t break this news. Three intrepid staffers at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters did, lo, many moons ago. On July 19, 2016, the three staffers embarked on a mission:

“We think Donald J. Trump’s been involved in more than 5,500 lawsuits. We’re going to try to read them all in under four hours.”

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Fortune Magazine, among other “secondary” news outlets, reported this within a day of its occurrence: “Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Spent 4 Hours Naming Trump Lawsuits on Facebook Live” . . .

“But they couldn’t list them all,” the article reported. There wasn’t enough time.

Surrounded by whiteboards and file boxes in a crowded campaign office, several members of Clinton’s opposition research team—Lauren Dillon, Tyson Brody, and an unnamed assistant—explained the logic of their stunt. (If you have four hours to kill, you can watch their efforts here.)

“Trump has really made his business record a key center point of his campaign. But there’s one thing that we know: He made millions off of ripping people off,” Dillon said.

“Now, this may take a bit,” Brody joked, “Because if you laid up Trump’s lawsuits back to back it would actually reach to the moon and back.”

And with that, Dillon and Brody took turns reading the titles of lawsuits in which the Republican presidential nominee was involved or party to—starting with Trump Plaza Associates v. Thomas.”

And where, pray tell, were the mainstream media way back then? Well, I haven’t statistics on pertinent coverage in the New York Times or USA Today. I can, however, venture a reasonable surmise, for Paul Krugman, as always, shines a light, while all around him it is dark: “Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to” a story – unmentionable in polite society – that, along with the nothingburger Whitewater story, the New York Times is unabashedly proud to have broken.

facebook-rules-for-survival-1Which brings us back to Gessen’s Autocracy: Rule for Survival # 3:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you.

It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy. . . .

The power of the investigative press—whose adherence to fact has already been severely challenged by the conspiracy-minded, lie-spinning Trump campaign—will grow weaker. The world will grow murkier. Even in the unlikely event that some mainstream media outlets decide to declare themselves in opposition to the current government, or even simply to report its abuses and failings, the president will get to frame many issues. Coverage, and thinking, will drift in a Trumpian direction, just as it did during the campaign . . . .

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.


Officers and men of the 13th Light Dragoons, survivors of the charge, photographed by Roger Fenton

*Credit to Alfred, Lord Tennyson for quotations from The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Text courtesy of Susan Scheid.

Header: Richard Caton Woodville, Jr., The Relief of the Light Brigade.


  1. At him, folk! I wonder how many more he can buy his way out of – doesn’t the ‘Trump University’ case settlement suggest guilt? And this, I fear, is your legal system. One of the few things over there that couldn’t quite happen in that way over here.

    Gessen’s Six Rules should be above everyone’s desk.

    I look forward to unfolding lunacies. He will be dogged every millimetre of the way.

  2. I wish I could have your confidence about him being dogged, David. This failure, however, is not isolated, but ongoing. For example, back in September, Eichenwald broke the story on DT’s foreign holdings (see this link: and, despite the efforts of a few news outlets, the story got buried beneath a mountain of much ado about nothing.

    So now, here we are, post-election, and the Times wakes up. As reported by Greg Sargent at WaPo: “The New York Times had an epic weekend dive into Trump’s extensive foreign holdings and the conflicts it could create for the new president. This nugget is striking:

    “Mr. Trump’s family appears to have been preparing for the transition to the Oval Office and ways to capitalize on it both in the United States and around the globe. In April, even before Mr. Trump had secured the Republican nomination, his business moved to trademark the name American Idea for use in branding hotels, spas and concierge services, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

    “That might have been useful knowledge during the election…”

    Indeed it might have been. A lot of things might have been. Every single story since the election about DT’s financial dealings, lawsuits, and a myriad other entanglements, was already known, and the media’s persistent failure to focus not only had a great deal to do with how we got here, but it continues on today. As Paul Waldman, also at WaPo, noted: “But if we’re going to maintain our democracy, we have to figure out how to deal with the way Trump successfully manipulates the media.

    “Perhaps, as some have suggested, Trump tweeted his ridiculous lie about millions of fraudulent votes on Sunday in order to distract people from this lengthy investigation in the New York Times of the overseas partnerships that present unprecedented conflict of interest problems for his foreign policy. But even if that wasn’t his intent, it’s what happened — and he accomplished some other things as well.”

  3. D.J.m.:

    I don’t understand…if all this was known before the election result, albeit not in mainstream press, why didn’t Hillary refer to it all during her election speeches?

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