D Dipasupil/Getty Images; Peter Serling/Mary L. Trump Twitter From left: Donald and Mary Trump
Former President Donald Trump is suing his niece, Mary Trump, The New York Times and three of the paper's journalists as he claims a 2018 prize-winning investigation about his tax dealings was the result of an "insidious plot," court documents show.
Trump's suit, reviewed by PEOPLE, seeks "an amount to be determined at trial, but believed to be no less than One Hundred Million Dollars."
The Times, in response, called Trump's complaint "an attempt to silence independent news organizations and we plan to vigorously defend against it."
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York's Dutchess County, responds to a Times story published in 2018 about the Trump family's wealth and alleged efforts to avoid paying taxes. The story cited documents provided by Mary Trump, who revealed herself as the source of the leak in her 2020 book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man.
At the time, Trump's attorney said "allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false."
The Times journalists named in Trump's new suit are Susanne Craig, David Barstow and Russell Buettner, who co-wrote the bombshell investigative report, headlined "Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father."
Their work earned a Pulitzer Prize for "a distinguished example of explanatory reporting" in 2019.
But Trump's lawsuit casts that reporting differently.
"The defendants engaged in an insidious plot to obtain confidential and highly-sensitive records which they exploited for their own benefit and utilized as a means of falsely legitimizing their publicized works," the complaint alleges. "The defendants' actions were motivated by a personal vendetta and their desire to gain fame, notoriety, acclaim and a financial windfall and were further intended to advance their political agenda."
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The suit cites a 2001 settlement regarding the estate of family patriarch Fred Trump Sr., in which all parties, including Mary, agreed to its terms of confidentiality and non-disclosure.
The former president, 75, argues that settlement from 2001 "plainly states" that those involved in the agreement "shall not disclose any of the terms of [the Settlement Agreement], and in addition shall not directly or indirectly publish or cause to be published, any diary, memoir, letter, story, photograph, interview, article, essay, account, or description or depiction of any kind whatsoever."
The confidentiality has been litigated already.
In response to a separate suit brought by Trump's brother Robert Trump last year, which aimed to block his niece's tell-all by citing the 2001 agreement, Mary's lawyer defended the contents of Too Much and Never Enough in a statement.
"President Trump and his siblings are seeking to suppress a book that will discuss matters of utmost public importance," attorney Theodore Boutros Jr., who represented Mary Trump, said. "They are pursuing this unlawful prior restraint because they do not want the American people to know the truth," Boutros continued. "The courts will not tolerate this brazen effort to squelch speech in violation of the First Amendment."
A judge agreed, ruling in July 2020 that the 2001 settlement agreement's confidentiality provision was too vaguely defined and likely related to specific financial details; and that it could not apply to Mary's decision, all these years later, to speak out about the president.
Her book was soon released.
MSNBC Mary Trump
The new lawsuit claims that the Times journalists engaged in an "extensive crusade to obtain Donald J. Trump's confidential tax records, relentlessly sought out his niece, Mary L. Trump, and convinced her to smuggle the records out of her attorney's office and turn them over to The Times."
In response to the lawsuit, the Times released a statement on Tuesday: "The Times's coverage of Donald Trump's taxes helped inform the public through meticulous reporting on a subject of overriding public interest. This lawsuit is an attempt to silence independent news organizations and we plan to vigorously defend against it."
Susanne Craig, one of the reporters named, reacted to the claims of nefariousness on Twitter, writing, "I knocked on Mary Trump's door. She opened it. I think they call that journalism."
Trump's attorney contended to PEOPLE that "this lawsuit is in no way an effort to limit free speech or silence the media."
"Rather, it is about overzealous journalists who clearly exceeded the bounds of journalistic integrity by committing tortious acts in pursuit of a story," his attorney argued in a statement.
D Dipasupil/Getty Images President Donald Trump
Mary — who has sued her relatives over her own allegations related to the family's money — likewise gave a statement to NBC News, saying of her uncle, "I think he is a loser, and he is going to throw anything against the wall he can. It's desperation."
"The walls are closing in and he is throwing anything against the wall that he thinks will stick," Mary said. "As is always the case with Donald, he'll try and change the subject."
Mary's attorney took aim at her uncle in a statement as well: "There are so many problems with Donald Trump's latest stunt that it is hard to know where to start. For one, his brother Robert, presumably backed by Donald himself, already lost these issues last year. On top of that, this lawsuit is clearly intended as a diversion from the very compelling fraud case that we filed on behalf of Mary Trump against Donald and his siblings."
During the 2016 campaign, which Trump won, he committed to the decades-long tradition of presidential candidates making tax returns public. However, the documents were never released by Trump, who repeatedly insisted he would do so once an ongoing audit was completed.