Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has sued The New York Times for libel, accusing the newspaper of knowingly publishing “false and defamatory statements” about an alleged conspiracy with Russia in a March 2019 opinion piece.
A complaint filed in Manhattan state court on Wednesday said the US newspaper falsely claimed that Mr Trump’s campaign had an “overarching deal” with “Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy” to help defeat 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in which Mr Trump would offer favourable foreign policy decisions, including relief for Moscow from US sanctions.
Campaign lawyers said not only were such statements incorrect, they had been previously debunked by the Times’s own reporting.
“The statements were and are 100 per cent false and defamatory,” Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser for Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, said in a statement. “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.”
The article referenced in the lawsuit is not news reporting, but a March 2019 opinion article entitled “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo”. It was written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of The New York Times from 1986 to 1994.
Mr Frankel’s piece ran under the sub-headline: “The campaign and the Kremlin had an overarching deal: help beat Hillary Clinton for a new pro-Russian foreign policy”.
The complaint said that Mr Frankel’s allegations of a conspiracy between Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia was not substantiated by Robert Mueller, the special counsel tasked with investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Mr Mueller released a report detailing his findings in April 2019.
However, the complaint said that the Times decided to publish Mr Frankel’s piece before the Mueller report was released, “knowing that the Mueller report was likely to exonerate the campaign from allegations of collusion with Russia regarding the 2016 election”.
The piece was nevertheless published in order to “damage the [Trump] campaign”, the complaint alleged.
Mr Trump was a frequent litigant before winning the White House, and he is not the first US president to clash with the press. But the antagonism has grown more pronounced during his presidency. He has frequently lashed out at the media — including The New York Times — criticising journalists and deriding their reporting as “fake news”.
The New York Times did not immediately publish a response to the lawsuit.