Melania Trump has retained attorney Charles Harder to threaten a lawsuit over a video suggesting first kid Barron Trump may be on the autism spectrum.
(Harder joined a nearly decade-long secret legal assault against Gawker Media, the former parent company of Jezebel, initiated by right-wing Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. He succeeded in bankrupting the company after winning a $140 million judgment on behalf of the wrestler Hulk Hogan in an invasion of privacy case funded by Thiel, who is now helping lead Trump’s transition. He is also currently representing Melania Trump against the Daily Mail for reporting on rumors that she may have worked as an escort.)
The video, which has now been taken down, did not assert anything outright about the youngest Trump son, but rather analyzed his public behavior and speculated what it might suggest.
TMZ obliquely reported Monday that Harder wrote a “letter” threatening to file suit over the video, though it’s unclear to whom it was sent or when. According to TMZ, “Melania is outraged and is serious about going after the person who posted the video if he doesn’t take it down.” But James Hunter, the young man who posted the video and is himself on the autism spectrum, writes in an update that he found out about it from TMZ.
“TMZ just contacted me to tell me Melania Trump is threatening a lawsuit over this video, and wants a public apology from me,” Hunter wrote on YouTube. “I’m absolutely terrified right now, and I’m not sure if this is actually true or not.”
“I truly believed Barron was on the [autism] spectrum, and I wanted people to stop bullying him over his ‘weird’ behavior and explain to them that it might actually be due to a condition,” he continued. “If this rumor [about the legal threat] turns out to be true, and Ms.Trump really wants this video deleted, I will. I have a great respect for her and her family. I never meant to hurt anyone.”
In a later post, another comment read, “I’ve been in contact with Melania Trump’s lawyer. This video will be deleted in 24 hours and I will publish a full retraction and apology to Melania and Barron Trump.” By Tuesday afternoon the video, along with all comments, had been deleted.
The letter, as it were, has not been published anywhere in full, though TMZ did quote Harder responding to one allegation made in the video. Here it is:
The video lists a number of signs it claims points to autism, including Barron clapping without slapping his hands together. Melania’s attorney, Charles J. Harder, says Barron did this once — at the end of a long day at the RNC — but the “vast majority of the time, he claps normally.”
Whether there was actually any intent to actually follow through on that wispiest of legal threats is another story—in the last few months alone, Donald Trump announced intentions to sue the New York Times and a dozen-odd women who accused him of sexual assault. These lawsuits have yet to materialize.
Furthermore, while news outlets generally avoid substantive reporting on the young children of the First Family, this matter concerns a random YouTuber and not a journalist. And as the video notes, Donald Trump has publicly commented on his (baseless) belief that autism is related to childhood vaccinations.
In a statement to The Wrap, Harder said: “This law firm represents First Lady-elect Melania Trump and her 10-year-old son, Barron Trump. A video was posted at YouTube recently speculating that Barron might be autistic. He is not. The video includes the hashtag ‘StopTheBullying’ but yet the video itself is bullying by making false statements and speculation about a 10-year-old boy for the purpose of harassing him and his parents. The online bullying of children, including Barron Trump, should end now.” Harder did not mention potential causes of action or future legal steps he might take.
The initial TMZ report also suggests Melania Trump was upset that Rosie O’Donnell (who Donald Trump repeatedly termed a “fat pig”) tweeted a link to the video, which Harder suggested was an act of bullying. We’ll update as the case develops.