WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has filed a libel lawsuit against The New York Times (NYT), accusing it of falsely asserting a trade-off between Russian officials and the president’s 2016 campaign.
The lawsuit was filed on February 26 with the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the state’s trial-level court, and is the first time Trump’s political operation has taken legal action against a U.S. news outlet since he took office.
Specifically, the litigation concerns an opinion piece published in March 2019 and written by Max Frankel, the newspaper’s executive editor from 1986 to 1994.
It 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 argues that this assertion “is false” and that the NYT published the essay “knowing it would misinform and mislead its own readers.”
It also alleges the NYT harbors “extreme bias against and animosity toward” Trump’s re-election campaign.
The newspaper defended the opinion piece on freedom of expression grounds.
“The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the NYT, said in a statement.
“Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance,” Murphy added. “We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”
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.”
An investigation by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller chronicled Moscow’s campaign of hacking and social-media propaganda to bolster Trump’s 2016 candidacy and damage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
The probe discovered numerous contacts between people associated with Trump’s campaign and Russians.
Mueller concluded he didn’t have enough evidence to show a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia but also didn’t exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice related to the investigation.
Trump’s reelection campaign has retained Charles J. Harder, a lawyer with a reputation for waging combative legal battles against prominent news media outlets, according to the NYT.