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 campaign files libel suit against New York Times over Russia story

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign said on Wednesday it filed a libel suit against the New York Times accusing the newspaper of intentionally publishing a false opinion article related to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

In an escalation of the Republican president’s long-running battle with the news media, campaign officials said the lawsuit was being filed in New York State Supreme Court, the state’s trial-level court.

A statement from the campaign said the aim of the litigation was to “hold the news organization accountable for intentionally publishing false statements against President Trump’s campaign.”

The lawsuit relates to a March 27, 2019, opinion article written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of the Times from 1986 to 1994.

The campaign attached to a news release a draft copy of the suit accusing the newspaper of “extreme bias against (the campaign) and animosity” and cited what it called the Times’ “exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020.” Trump is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.

The Times did not have an immediate comment.

The opinion piece was headlined, “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo” with a subhead adding, “The campaign and the Kremlin had an overarching deal: help beat Hillary Clinton for a new pro-Russian foreign policy.” Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning a favor in exchange for a favor.

The lawsuit originated with the Trump re-election campaign, but Trump himself has contended the Times has at times been biased against him.

Trump often refers to various news media outlets as “fake news” and has called elements of the U.S. news media “the enemy of the American people.”

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller documented Moscow’s campaign of hacking and social media propaganda to boost Trump’s 2016 candidacy and harm his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

It documented numerous contacts between people associated between Trump’s campaign and Russians. Mueller found insufficient evidence to show a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia but did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice related to the investigation.

In the opinion piece, Frankel stated, “Collusion – or a lack of it – turns out to have been the rhetorical trap that ensnared President Trump’s pursuers.”

Frankel added, “There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions. The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo.”

“Today the President’s re-election campaign filed suit against the New York Times for falsely stating the Campaign had an ‘overarching deal’ with ‘Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy’ to ‘help the campaign against Hillary Clinton’ in exchange for ‘a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from … economic sanctions,’” said Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

“The statements were and are 100 percent false and defamatory. The complaint alleges The Times was aware of the falsity at the time it published them, but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process,” Ellis said.

In a copy of the lawsuit provided by his re-election team, the campaign stated, “The Times was well aware when it published these statements that they were not true.”

[Reuters]

Trump: Tech companies, not Russia, trying to ‘rig the election’

President Donald Trump today suggested tech giants like Google and Twitter are the greatest threat to the integrity of the 2020 presidential election — and said anti-conservative bias among the companies had a greater impact in 2016 than Russian meddling.

“Let me tell you, they’re trying to rig the election,” Trump said in a phone interview on Fox Business. “That’s what we should be looking at, not that witch hunt, the phony witch hunt.”

Charging Google with being “totally biased” in favor of Democrats and fomenting “hatred for the Republicans,” Trump downplayed Russia’s 2016 social media manipulation: “You know, they talk about Russia because they had some bloggers—and by the way, those bloggers, some of them were going both ways. They were for Clinton and for Trump.”

Lawmakers, academics and U.S. intelligence officials are in broad agreement that Russia mounted a vast online disinformation campaign ahead of the 2016 election with the aim of inflaming American political and social tensions, supporting Trump’s candidacy and depressing Democratic voter turnout.

Trump’s comments reiterated claims that he and other prominent Republicans have made alleging that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are biased against conservatives and deliberately stifle their accounts and content. The companies flatly deny these allegations.

His criticisms came immediately after an extended broadside against Twitter for allegedly blocking people from following his account on the site, a claim the president has made repeatedly without evidence.

Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A Google spokesperson said, “We build our products with extraordinary care and safeguards to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without any regard for political viewpoint,” noting the company’s publicly available criteria for determining the quality of search results.

[Politico]

Trump accuses NYT reporter of breaking the law by alerting FBI to Kushner meetings with Russians

President Donald Trump accused a New York Times reporter of breaking the law by tipping off the FBI to developments in the Russia investigation.

Times reporter Michael Schmidt alerted the FBI’s assistant director for public affairs in March 2017 that he and some colleagues had found out Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn had met in December 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who then set up a meeting between Trump’s son-in-law and a Russian banker.

Schmidt’s email was then forwarded to FBI special agent Peter Strzok, who was leading the bureau’s Russia investigation, and Jonathan Moffa, an FBI counterintelligence officer, reported the Washington Examiner.

Trump reacted with a pair of tweets suggesting that Schmidt had fed false information to the FBI.

“Just revealed that the Failing and Desperate New York Times was feeding false stories about me, & those associated with me, to the FBI,” Trump tweeted. “This shows the kind of unprecedented hatred I have been putting up with for years with this Crooked newspaper. Is what they have done legal?”

[Raw Story]

Kushner unsure whether he’d alert FBI if Russians request another meeting

On “Axios on HBO,” Jared Kushner said he doesn’t know whether he’d call the FBI if he were to receive an email today like the one before the campaign’s Trump Tower meeting, which had the subject line: “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

  • Kushner said this after a tense exchange about the email he received to set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting. 

Why this matters: Kushner is now in the West Wing as senior adviser to the president. Shouldn’t an email with an offer of help from Russians trigger a mental alarm? This bolsters the perception that President Trump’s inner circle still doesn’t fully recognize the ongoing threat of Russian interference in American elections. 

  • Kushner’s response comes after FBI Director Christopher Wray said in congressional testimony that he would recommend that in the future, people contact the FBI if a foreign government offers campaign support.

What he’s saying: Kushner said people are being “self-righteous” and playing “Monday morning quarterback” by asking him why he didn’t call the FBI when he saw the email offering help for the Trump campaign from Russia.

  • “Let me put you in my shoes at that time. OK, I’m running three companies, I’m helping run the campaign. I get an email that says show up at 4 instead of 3 to a meeting that I had been told about earlier that I didn’t know what the hell it was about.”

Asked if he’d call the FBI if it happened again, Kushner said: “I don’t know. It’s hard to do hypotheticals, but the reality is is that we were not given anything that was salacious.”

[Axios]

Media

Trump says Russia helped elect him – then quickly backtracks

Donald Trump has denied that Russia helped elect him president, less than an hour after he admitted Russia did help to elect him president.

In a flurry of tweets lashing out at people and concepts including the special counsel Robert Mueller, “fake news media” and “this phony crime”, Trump, for the first time, said Russia aided his 2016 presidential win.

“Russia, Russia, Russia!” the president tweeted on Thursday morning.

“That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax. And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”

For a president who has previously denied Russia interfered in the 2016 election at all – despite the conclusions of US intelligence agencies – the admission of Russian help was startling.

But soon after Trump’s statement, he made a prompt about-turn.

“Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia did not help me at all,” Trump said during a White House press conference.

On Wednesday Mueller said his two-year investigation had “established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome”.

Mueller’s report states that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”.

The report also detailed 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump and his campaign. Mueller has said charging Trump with a crime was “not an option we could consider”, because of justice department policy.

Mueller added: “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

Trump was en route to Colorado on Thursday morning, to address a graduation ceremony for the US air force academy.

[The Guardian]

Trump Admits Donald Trump Jr Called Him Before the Trump Tower Meeting With Russian Lawyer

President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech on Wednesday was notable largely just because it was so absurd, but he also dropped a piece of information about the infamous Trump Tower meeting before the 2016 election for the first time.

The president suggested that an opposition research firm was behind the Trump Tower meeting, told the press that they should be “ashamed” of themselves and announced that he won’t work with Democrats until they stop investigating him.

But, at one moment, the president said that his son, Donald Trump Jr., called him just before the famous Trump Tower meeting in which he met with a Russian lawyer.

Trump was talking about the meeting and the phone calls that were made around the time that had been scrutinized by Mueller’s team. The president said, “[Donald Trump Jr.] had the meeting and he called me and he had the meeting after.”

This is just another revelation in the long string of disclosures about that meeting. At first, President Trump told Reuters that he didn’t know about the meeting until the New York Times broke a story on it.

When the Times wrote that story, Trump Jr. released a statement. At first, the president said that he had nothing to do with the statement but, finally, the White House admitted that he at least helped his son put the statement together.

Then, in the summer of 2018, Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen said that the president knew about the meeting in advance.

The meeting is important because it took place in the summer of 2016, only a few months before the election and because Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were both in the meeting. Kushner struggled to get a security clearance because he lied about his contacts with foreign officials

But, Wednesday is the first time that the president said that he talked to Donald Trump Jr. before he went into the meeting.

[IJR]

Trump Holds Victory Lap at First Rally After Mueller Submits Report: ‘The Russia Hoax is Finally Dead’

President Donald Trump came out firing against the media, Democrats, and his other opponents at the start of his rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan — the first since Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report on the Russia investigation.

“After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead,” Trump exclaimed to the raucous crowd. “Total exoneration, complete vindication.”

“Robert Mueller was a god to the Democrats until he said no collusion, they don’t like them so much right now,” he added.

Trump continued to call the 2016 investigation of Russia’s election interference a “crazy,” “sinister effort” by Democrats and the “fake news” media to “undermine our historic election victory and to sabotage the will of the American people.” He also called it a ploy by the “corrupt establishment” to “illegally regain power by framing innocent Americans.”

While the attorney general’s summary of the Mueller report said it did not find sufficient evidence of conspiracy, it did not make a determination on whether the president obstructed justice. That was left up to AG William Barr, who cleared the president on obstruction.

[Mediaite]

Trump: Media disgraced ‘all over the world’ following Mueller revelations

The conclusion of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has discredited media “all over the world,” President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, celebrating the special counsel’s findings by slamming the news coverage of Mueller’s probe.

“The Mainstream Media is under fire and being scorned all over the World as being corrupt and FAKE,” he tweeted. “For two years they pushed the Russian Collusion Delusion when they always knew there was No Collusion. They truly are the Enemy of the People and the Real Opposition Party!”

Trump and his allies have relentlessly attacked the media since Mueller concluded that no one on Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired to work with Russian agents to influence the 2016 presidential election and was unable to conclude whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.

Most of the ire has been focused on pundits on Twitter and cable news, where the Russia investigation was covered extensively, and has drawn mixed calls for introspection and a media reckoning.

On Monday, the president’s reelection campaign urged networks to reconsider the Democrats they invited on their programs, suggesting several familiar cable news faces — including several House committee chairmen — be blacklisted from the airwaves for “lying to the American people by vigorously and repeatedly claiming there was evidence of collusion.”

While the Trump campaign complained this week that the president’s detractors have made “outlandish, false claims,” Trump himself has long faced similar accusations. Several of Trump’s top advisers, too, have faced withering criticism for making false or misleading claims while defending the president and his policies.

While the president’s attack on the media took a more serious tone Tuesday, some of his aides have attempted to inject mockery into their criticisms.

For example, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday shared a mock “Mueller Madness” bracket featuring journalists, celebrities and TV personalities on her Twitter account, asking her 3.8 million followers, “Which of the angry and hysterical @realDonaldTrump haters got it most embarrassingly wrong?”

But while the White House’s attacks on the media are not new, the renewed criticisms have drawn responses from media executives who defended their organizations’ coverage of the Russia investigation. Multiple outlets have noted in recent days that their reporting on Trump and his ties to Russia had been borne out by Mueller’s probe, which resulted in a slew of indictments, convictions and guilty pleas of Trump allies.

[Politico]

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