The Trump campaign is filing a libel lawsuit against the New York Times, claiming the paper inaccurately reported "as fact a conspiracy with Russia" in a March 2019 opinion piece. The campaign, which is seeking "compensatory damages in the millions," claims the Times "intentionally" published false statements about the Trump campaign.
The complaint, which is being filed in New York state's Supreme Court, claims The Times "sought to damage the campaign before the Mueller report would be released debunking the conspiracy claims." The statute of limitations for libel in New York state is one year, meaning the campaign was running out of time to file a suit.
The opinion piece in question, "The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo," was written by former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel, who claimed the campaign and Russia 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."
"Run down the known facts about the communications between Russians and the Trump campaign and their deal reveals itself," Frankel wrote.
The Trump campaign insists The Times was aware it was misleading readers.
"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,'" Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis said in a statement.
Ellis called the statements "100 percent false and defamatory," and she said in the complaint that "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 president frequently calls The Times and other media outlets on Twitter "fake news," with little or no evidence.
A spokesperson for the New York Times said they will be vindicated in court.
"The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable," the spokesperson told CBS News. "Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case."
In its complaint, the Trump campaign says the article doesn't offer proof of its claims of any "quid pro quo" or "deal" between the Trump campaign and Russia. Moreover, the lawsuit also argues, "The falsity of the story has been confirmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election released on or about April 18, 2019 (the "Mueller Report"), and many other published sources, that there was no conspiracy between the Campaign and Russia in connection with the 2016 United States Presidential Election, or otherwise."
Because Mr. Trump is a public official, to prevail in this libel lawsuit, beyond the mere publication of a defamatory statement, the campaign's legal team must prove "actual malice," that the Times knew that the statement was false or published anyway, recklessly disregarding whether or not it was true. As it happens, the standard was laid out in a defamation case involving the New York Times in 1964, New York Times Company v. Sullivan.
The complaint includes past reporting from The Times, which Trump campaign lawyers say shows "The Times was well aware when it published these statements that they were not true."
"The Times' own previous reporting had confirmed the falsity of these statements," the lawsuit continues. "But The Times published these statements anyway, knowing them to be false, and knowing it would misinform and mislead its own readers, because of The Times' extreme bias against and animosity toward the campaign, and The Times' exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020."