Trump campaign sues CNN for libel over opinion article

The Trump campaign announced Friday that it sued CNN for libel over an opinion article, saying it wants the network to be held “accountable for intentionally publishing false statements against” it.

The big picture: It’s the latest of a series of libel suits by the campaign aimed at media outlets’ opinion articles on issues linked to Russia. Over the last few weeks, the campaign has also sued the New York Times and the Washington Post, alleging similar motives.

  • While President Trump has often threatened to sue news organizations for libel, he has rarely followed through.
  • The efforts face a relatively high bar for proof compared to most lawsuits. In order for a public official to successfully sue for libel, they must be able to prove that the defendant acted with “actual malice.”

The article named in the suit, written by CNN contributor Larry Noble and published in June, states that “the Trump campaign assessed the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia’s help in 2020 and has decided to leave that option on the table.”

  • That assertion is backed up earlier in the piece by citing a Trump interview last year with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, where Trump said he’d “want to hear” information offered on political opponents by a foreign government. His statement in that interview was also used to support an argument in one of the Post pieces that resulted in a lawsuit.
  • The CNN piece also cites an “Axios on HBO” interview with White House adviser Jared Kushner, who said that he doesn’t know whether he’d call the FBI if he were to receive another email like the one before the campaign’s Trump Tower meeting, which had the subject line: “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

What they’re saying:

  • Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis: “The campaign filed this lawsuit against CNN and the preceding suits against The New York Times and The Washington Post to hold the publishers accountable for their reckless false reporting and also to establish the truth: that the campaign did not have an agreement, quid pro quo, or collusion with Russia, as the Mueller Report concluded.”
  • CNN declined to comment on the suit.

[Axios]

Trump 2020 Sues ‘Washington Post,’ Days After ‘N.Y. Times’ Defamation Suit

President Trump’s reelection campaign has sued The Washington Post claiming defamation in two opinion pieces published last June.

Both pieces raised concerns that Trump had invited Russia’s help to boost his electoral fortunes. The lawsuit follows last week’s defamation suit against The New York Times over an opinion piece written by the paper’s former executive editor, Max Frankel, on the same subject.

The lawsuits dovetail with the president’s ongoing political strategy of targeting major media outlets as foes.

The president is once more represented by the lawyer Charles Harder, known for helping to run media and gossip blog Gawker out of business. Harder previously represented first lady Melania Trump in securing settlements after filing defamation complaints against the Daily Mail and a Maryland blogger. Harder has also threatened litigation against major news organizations, including NPR, for other clients who were subject to critical coverage.

The lawsuit against the Post, filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges Trump was defamed in columns by the liberal commentators Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman. Both referred to remarks Trump made to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in which he defended the idea of accepting damaging information about political opponents from foreign governments.

In Sargent’s case, he wrote that “Trump and/or his campaign….tried to conspire with” Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. Waldman’s column asked: “Who knows what sort of aid Russia and North Korea will give to the Trump campaign now that he has invited them to offer their assistance?”

The president’s lawsuit refers to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The suit maintains that the final report “concluded there was no conspiracy between the [2016] Campaign and the Russian government, and no United States person intentionally coordinated with Russia’s efforts.”

The Mueller report did say it “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in the election interference activities.” But it also concluded that “the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

First Amendment scholars tell NPR that prominent public officials must meet a tough legal standard to win defamation cases, especially those involving opinion pieces. That’s even more true for the nation’s chief executive, who is expected to be subject to widespread public criticism and scrutiny.

However, publications can be held liable for incorrect statements of fact made within opinion columns in which publishers are believed to have acted with “reckless disregard” or “actual malice” as defined under the law. The New York Times is still defending itself in a defamation suit by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was incorrectly linked to the shooting of then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a 2017 editorial. The newspaper later corrected the assertion and tweeted an apology from its opinion section account. Its lawyers have called it an honest mistake.

The decision to have the Trump-Pence campaign sue on behalf of the president allows the president’s costs to be borne by a special account funded by donors.

[NPR]

Trump dismisses reports of Russian meddling, labels them Democratic ‘misinformation campaign’

President Trump on Friday asserted that Democrats were behind recent news reports that intelligence officials informed Congress of Russian interference in the 2020 race to help his reelection, with the president dubbing it a “misinformation campaign.”

“Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa. Hoax number 7!” Trump tweeted.

The president was reacting to news first reported by The New York Times that officials told House lawmakers during a classified briefing last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 presidential election campaign in order to try to reelect Trump.

Trump reportedly lashed out at Joseph Maguire, then his acting director of national intelligence, after the briefing for allowing it to take place.

The president has previously cast doubt on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to help Trump and hurt his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That assessment has been confirmed by investigations by Congress and the executive branch, including former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which Trump has repeatedly decried as a “witch hunt.”

The New York Times and Washington Post both reported Thursday on details of the closed-door intelligence briefing, as well as Trump’s subsequent anger at Maguire.

House lawmakers have not publicly released any details about the classified briefing.

The news reports came shortly after Trump announced that U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell would take over as his acting intelligence chief, a position Maguire was required by law to leave next month. Trump is now searching for a permanent replacement for the role, which requires Senate confirmation.

[The Hill]

Trump praises Kennedy after Chuck Todd links senator’s Ukraine remarks to Putin

President Trump on Monday praised Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) for his appearance a day earlier on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where anchor Chuck Todd questioned the senator for pushing the unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

“Thank you to Great Republican @SenJohnKennedy for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself against Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd on Meet the Depressed!” Trump tweeted.

The president tweeted his thanks as he flew to London for NATO meetings. He also praised two House Republicans for defending him against the impeachment inquiry in television interviews.

Kennedy has been part of controversial interviews each of the past two Sundays after making claims about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election.

Kennedy last week suggested that there was still a possibility that Ukraine was responsible for the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack. He walked back those comments days later but has continued to insist Ukraine interfered in other ways. 

On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Kennedy asserted that reporting in outlets such as Politico and The Economist indicated that the former Ukrainian president favored Clinton over Trump.

“The fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” he said.

Todd appeared exasperated with the senator and pushed back on his argument, suggesting Kennedy was furthering a narrative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Are you at all concerned that you’ve been duped?” Todd asked. 

“No, just read the articles,” Kennedy said. 

The Intelligence Committee has concluded that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 election and was seeking to aid the Trump campaign. Former special counsel Robert Mueller determined he could not establish that the Trump campaign worked with Russia.

In the aftermath of that investigation, Trump and some of his allies have continued to claim Ukraine meddled in the 2016 race despite the insistence to the contrary of national security officials. 

[The Hill]

The US Navy canceled a routine Black Sea patrol after Trump complained that it was hostile to Russia

Christopher Anderson, an aide to former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, testified that the White House canceled a Navy freedom-of-navigation operation in the Black Sea after President Donald Trump complained to then-national security adviser John Bolton about a CNN report that framed the operation as a counter to Russia, Politico reported.

According to Anderson’s testimony, the news report in question came from CNN and characterized the operation as antagonistic toward Russia. Anderson testified that Trump called Bolton at home to complain about the article, and the operation was later canceled at the behest of the White House, Anderson said.

“In January, there was an effort to get a routine freedom-of-navigation operation into the Black Sea,” Anderson testified. “There was a freedom-of-navigation operation for the Navy. So we — we, the US government — notified the Turkish government that there was this intent.”

While Anderson in his testimony placed the report in January, details from his testimony match a story from early December, which had the headline “US makes preparations to sail warship into the Black Sea amid Russia-Ukraine tensions.”

Anderson said the White House asked the Navy to cancel the freedom-of-navigation operation because the report portrayed the operation as a move to counter Russia, which has increased its naval presence there since annexing Crimea in 2014. In November 2018, its forces attacked Ukrainian assets transiting the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. Russia seized three Ukrainian ships and held 24 Ukrainian service members captive.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report. And that may have just been that he was surprised,” Anderson said.

“We don’t — I can’t speculate as to why, but that, that operation, was canceled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion.”

The White House and the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, which conducts operations in Europe, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. 

[Business Insider]

Trump says he’s ‘thinking about’ attending Russia’s May Day parade

Donald Trump says he’s considering attending Russia‘s May Day parade in 2020.

The president told reporters outside the White House that he was “invited” by Russian President Vladimir Putin and is “thinking about” attending the procession, which commemorates the end of the Second World War with a display of the country’s military might.

“It’s right in the middle of our campaign season, but I would certainly think about it”, Mr Trump told reporters on Friday. 

Not to be confused with May Day parades, the Moscow Victory Day Parade on 9 May 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Nazi Germany on the war’s Eastern front.

“President Putin invited me to the… It’s a very big deal, celebrating the end of the war, etcetera, etcetera, a very big deal, so I appreciate the invitation”, Mr Trump said. “It is right in the middle of political season, so I’ll see if I can do it, but I would love to go if I could.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Trump had been invited earlier this year.

Mr Peskov told reporters that Mr Trump had reacted positively to the invitation.

On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reportedly confirmed to Russian news agency RIA that Mr Putin’s invitation was “received with interest”, according to Reuters, but the White House did not respond with an affirmative.

Mr Trump’s response on Friday arrives amid ongoing tensions between the two countries, including Russia’s manoeuvring in Ukraine and its interference in 2016 elections and US politics, in Washington and on social media.

Facing the president and members of his cabinet at the White House last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is leading the impeachment charge against Mr Trump, said that she likely was thinking, “All roads lead to Putin” while addressing the president.

[The Independent]

Trump Defends Abandoning Syria’s Kurds: “They’re not angels”

President Trump addressed Turkey’s invasion of Syria in the Oval Office on Wednesday, telling reporters that the Syrian Kurds — who allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS — are “not angels,” and that the Syrian government and Russia will protect them.

“[O]ur soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be, as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. And the Kurds are much safer right now. But the Kurds know how to fight, and as I said, they’re not angels. They’re not angels. … Syria probably will have a partner of Russia, whoever they may have. I wish them all a lot of luck.”

Driving the news: Trump has sent a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to negotiate with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said on Wednesday that he would “never declare a ceasefire,” which Trump disputed. On Monday, Trump authorized sanctions punishing Turkey for its military operation.

  • Erdogan views the primarily-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and Turkey.
  • The SDF, which is also guarding detention camps with thousands of captured ISIS fighters and families, has struck a deal with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to protect the border from Turkey’s military assault. This has allowed Russian forces who back Assad to move into areas that had been under Kurdish control for 7 years.

The big picture: During the fight against ISIS, the SDF — trained and armed by the U.S. — lost more than 10,000 troops. Republicans and Democrats have condemned Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called it a “very dark moment in American history,” while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that Trump will have “blood on his hands” if ISIS returns.

“If the President did say that Turkey’s invasion is no concern to us I find that to be an outstanding—an astonishing statement which I completely and totally reject. … If you’re not concerned about Turkey going into Syria why did you sanction Turkey?”

Sen. Graham

[Axios]

Trump Tweetstorms Amid Mounting Syria Criticism: Anyone Helping Protect Kurds Good With Me, Whether It’s ‘Russia, China, or Napoleon’

President Donald Trump went on a tweetstorm this afternoon standing by his Syria withdrawal decision amid mounting criticism from Republicans and the atrocities witnessed in northern Syria in the past few days.

Many Republicans have been critical of the decision (some blaming Trump, others going a slightly different route), and just yesterday a harrowing report from Fox News said there’s evidence of war crimes, as well as “civilians being targeted, and ISIS prisoners escaping.”

This morning the president hit back over comments from Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, and this afternoon he went on a tweetstorm defending his decision, asking, “why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy?”, and invoking Napoleon for some reason.

[Mediaite]

Trump seriously considering blocking $250M in military aid to Ukraine

President Donald Trump is seriously considering a plan to block $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, a move that would further ingratiate him with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has directed senior officials to review the aid package.Trump’s decision to order the review comes after the White House publicly lost a battle to slash foreign aid spending across the board. After scrapping the plan to slash $4 billion in foreign aid, Trump said his team would look to find cuts elsewhere in the aid budget.”The President has made no secret when it comes to foreign assistance that US interests abroad should be prioritized and other foreign countries should also be paying their fair share,” a senior administration official told CNN.Specifically, Trump has directed Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser John Bolton to oversee the process, the senior administration official said.

The President has not yet made a final decision on whether to permanently block the funds, an administration official told CNN. The review process, however, has effectively paused disbursement of the funds, which are set to expire on September 30 if they are not used.

The Pentagon has already recommended to the White House that the hold on military assistance to Ukraine be lifted, an administration official and a US defense official told CNN Thursday. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the matter on Thursday.”We do not publicly comment on internal budget deliberations. For further inquiries, I direct you to the White House Office of Management and Budget,” said spokesperson Lt. Col. Carla Gleason.However the hold on the aid remains in place, as it is the White House’s call whether to lift it, the administration official said, fueling uncertainty within the administration about what will happen to the spending after the review is formally completed.In the meantime, agencies are authorized and encouraged to execute all processes to prepare for the obligation of those funds but must wait to obligate them until the policy review is complete and the President has made a final determination, the senior official said. 

Bipartisan anger

If Trump ultimately decides to block the aid package, a possibility first reported by Politico, it would likely prompt a bipartisan uproar from members of Congress who believe US military support is essential to countering Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine.Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced his strong opposition to that idea in a tweet Thursday: “This is unacceptable. It was wrong when Obama failed to stand up to Putin in Ukraine, and it’s wrong now.”Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez released a statement accusing the administration of circumventing Congress and “undermining a key policy priority that has broad and deep bipartisan support.””In willfully delaying these funds, the Trump Administration is once again trying to circumvent Congress’ Constitutional prerogative of appropriating funds for U.S. government agencies. It is also undermining a key policy priority that has broad and deep bipartisan support,” he said.”Enough is enough. President Trump should stop worrying about disappointing Vladimir Putin and stand up for U.S. national security priorities,” Menendez added.

What will Trump do?

Multiple sources familiar with the issue tell CNN that the President has floated the idea of halting the funding program for weeks. The White House has recently notified relevant agencies and congressional committees of its intent to block the aid to Ukraine, one source said.However, sources say that there are still questions about what Trump will ultimately do.

[CNN]

Trump got slapped down by G7 leaders after advocating for Russia

President Donald Trump derailed a major meeting with world leaders at the annual Group of Seven summit on Saturday evening after he insisted that Russia should be reinvited to the international gathering, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

At a dinner in Biarritz, France, the president interrupted talks of the fires in the Amazon and Iran’s nuclear capacity by advocating for Russia to be readmitted to the gathering of industrialized nations. Russia was expelled from the group in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that violated international laws and agreements.

Trump’s comments initiated a discussion at the dinner about “whether the leaders should assign any special weight to being a democracy,” The Post reported, citing officials. While most of the world leaders staunchly believed they should, Trump didn’t.

A senior official at the meeting told The Post that Trump crossed his arms and appeared to take a more combative stance as multiple leaders rejected his comments.

“The consequence is the same as if one of the participants is a dictator,” an official told The Post. “No community of like-minded leaders who are pulling together.”

Officials told The Post that at least two of the leaders present — Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, and Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s acting prime minister — did not push back against Trump’s position.

On Sunday morning, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised French President Emmanuel Macron’s performance at the dinner. “You did very well there last night. My God, that was a difficult one,” Johnson said, according to The Post.

Trump on Monday said he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to next year’s summit.

“Would I invite him? I would certainly invite him,” he told reporters.

“Whether or not he could come, psychologically, I think that’s a tough thing for him to do,” because Putin is “a proud person,” he said.

The US is set to host next year’s G7 gathering, so Trump may have the power to unilaterally reinvite Putin.

Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and other leaders have made clear that they wouldn’t consider supporting Russia’s readmittance unless the country helps promote peace in Ukraine.

“One year ago, in Canada, President Trump suggested reinviting Russia to the G7, stating openly that Crimea’s annexation by Russia was partially justified. And that we should accept this fact. Under no condition can we agree with this logic,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, told reporters over the weekend.

Trump argued last week that it didn’t make sense to exclude Russia from the gathering “because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia.”

Trump hasn’t mentioned Crimea or suggested that Russia would need to make any concessions to rejoin the group, but has repeatedly said that President Barack Obama was “outsmarted” by Russia and demanded the country’s exclusion.

[Business Insider]

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