With his deeply unpopular U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, facing outraged protests at his confirmation hearing and veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s book about the inner workings of the White House making waves, President Donald Trump launched his latest attacks on the First Amendment on Wednesday.
According to reports from the Daily Beast and Hill Reporter, Trump took aim at protesters like the dozens who were dragged away in handcuffs from Kavanaugh’s hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday. In an Oval Office interview with the conservative Daily Caller on Tuesday, the president was quoted as saying:
The reports did not indicate what Trump, whose only political position has been as President of the United States, was referring to by “the old days” when “we used to throw them out,” but as a presidential candidate in 2016, he made a habit of ordering the removal of protesters from his rallies—as well as encouraging his supporters to violently attack them.
Demonstrators have already faced consequences for exercising their First Amendment rights at Kavanaugh’s hearing. CNN reported that a total of 70 protesters were arrested for protesting on the first day of the proceedings.
On Wednesday morning, the protesters returned to the hearing room to find no apparent allies on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is overseeing the confirmation hearings. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) apologized to Kavanaugh for “the circumstances” after several demonstrators were removed for vocally opposing the anti-choice extremist, while Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) warned against “insolence” in the chamber.
After a few protests early in the hearing, Lisa Desjardins, a correspondent for the PBS “Newshour” tweeted that the public had been barred from the room.
Organizers with the Women’s March later tweeted that they and other protesters were back in the room and ready to continue demonstrating.
Trump has frequently railed against journalists for writing negative stories about him, and this is just the latest time he has made a public call for Congress to amend libel laws to protect him.
Last winter, following the release of another White House exposé, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” Trump warned that he would “be taking a look at our nation’s libel laws.”
As MSNBC reporter Ari Melber noted on “Morning Joe,” the president suggestion served to chill free press rights—and was not based in an understanding of U.S. laws regarding libel and defamation.
“Libel laws are state laws,” Melber said. “That tweet, beyond being a potential abuse of the president’s role in trying to bully the free press given the federal First Amendment, also shows a stunning lack of knowledge and total ignorance about how libel laws work.”