Trump Campaign Files Defamation Lawsuit against The New York Times

A couple of weeks ago, President Donald Trump made history as the first sitting president to file a defamation lawsuit against a media outlet. President Trump’s reelection campaign filed a lawsuit in New York state court alleging that The New York Times published defamatory statements in a 2019 opinion editorial concerning claims of a quid pro quo between Russia and then-candidate Trump’s 2016 campaign. Suits like this involving protected political speech are nearly impossible to win.

The article, entitled “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” was written by a former New York Times executive editor. The article concluded that the Trump campaign and Russian officials “had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.” According to the complaint, this conclusion “is false” and “knowing it would misinform and mislead its own readers,” The New York Times made the decision to publish the piece anyways.

The President’s campaign alleges that the purportedly defamatory article fails to offer any proof of its claim of a quid pro quo. Instead, the complaint alleges, the article “selectively refers to previously-reported contacts between a Russian lawyer and persons connected with the [President’s 2016] Campaign” and insinuates that “these contacts must have resulted in a quid pro quo or a deal.” Moreover, the complaint goes on to allege that the article failed to “acknowledge that, in fact, there had been extensive reporting, including in The [New York] Times, that the meetings and contacts . . . did not result in any quid pro quo or deal between the Campaign and Russia, or anyone connected with either of them.”

According to the lawsuit, the claims in the piece were false—a supposition the complaint contends is virtually beyond the need for proof as “[t]he falsity of the story has been confirmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election released on or about April 18, 2019” and “many other published sources.”

The campaign minces no words in the complaint when explaining what it believes the motive for publishing the allegedly defamatory op-ed was. The opening paragraphs accuse The New York Times of harboring “extreme bias against and animosity towards” President Trump’s re-election campaign and having an “exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020.”

In allegations likely aimed at establishing actual malice, the complaint alleges that the New York Times “obviously had a malicious motive, and also acted with reckless disregard for the truth.” The media outlet knew that the claims in the opinion piece were false, the lawsuit argues, due to “[e]xtensive information, including stories in The [New York] Times published before the Defamatory Article” which “had put The Times and the world on notice that there was no conspiracy between the Campaign and the Russian government, and there was no  ‘quid pro quo’ or ‘deal’ between them.” The complaint cites as “further evidence of The [New York] Times’ actual malice” that the media outlet allegedly “did not afford the Campaign an opportunity to verify the accuracy of the claims before publication, and did not reach out to the Campaign for comment.”

The libel suit alleges that the defamatory article has injured the President’s reelection campaign in that it “has forced, and will continue to force, the Campaign to expend funds on corrective advertisements and to otherwise publicize the fact that the Campaign did not collude with, have a deal with, or have a ‘quid pro quo’ with Russia regarding the 2016 election.” The damages resulting from this alleged defamation is “an amount to be proven at trial,” according to the complaint.

A copy of the complaint can be obtained here.

Whether you are being accused of defaming someone or you believe that someone else has defamed you, it is important to consult an experienced defamation law and First Amendment law attorney. Our DuPage County defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to address matters of public concern. Our results speak for themselves. Here you can read a federal court decision where we successfully defended our client against a libel per se claim asserting the innocent construction defense and arguing that the statements were nonactionable opinion. We also recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit regarding our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16 million libel per se lawsuit.

Our Lisle and Westmont defamation attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicagoland area including in Wilmette and Evanston who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating websites in order to publish defamatory content about our business clients. Beyond slander and libel law, our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. We serve clients throughout Illinois and the Chicagoland area. You can contact us online here or call us on our locally number at 630-333-0333.

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