Mar 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump campaign sues Washington Post for libel over opinion articles

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Trump campaign announced Tuesday that it sued the Washington Post for libel over two opinion articles the campaign says reported "as fact a conspiracy with Russia."

The big picture: While President Trump has often threatened to sue news organizations for libel, he rarely followed through until last week — when his campaign filed a similar suit against the New York Times.

  • In order for a public official to successfully sue for libel, they must be able to prove that the defendant acted with "actual malice" — a high bar for most lawsuits.
  • Of note: The campaign press release announcing the lawsuit against the Post was worded identically to the one announcing the Times suit, with only the details changed.

In one of the articles named in the suit, Post opinion writer Greg Sargent writes that "Mueller also concluded that Trump and/or his campaign eagerly encouraged, tried to conspire with, and happily profited off of those efforts. Yet Mueller did not find sufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy."

  • The Mueller report said the investigation "established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away."
  • "Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities," it added.

In the second article, Post opinion writer Paul Waldman writes: "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?"

  • That sentence in Waldman's piece links to a Trump interview last year with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.
  • Stephanopoulos asked Trump during that interview: "Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?"
  • Trump's response: "I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, 'we have information on your opponent.' Oh, I think I’d want to hear it."

What they're saying:

  • Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis: "The statements were and are 100 percent false and defamatory. The complaint alleges The Post 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. The campaign files suit to publicly establish the truth and seek appropriate legal remedies for the harm caused by false reporting."
  • Washington Post spokesperson: “It’s disappointing to see the President’s campaign committee resorting to these types of tactics and we will vigorously defend this case.”

Read the lawsuit.

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