The campaign to reelect President Donald Trump sued The New York Times for defamation Wednesday, saying it was responsible for an essay by a former executive editor for the newspaper that claimed the campaign made a deal with Russian officials to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In the lawsuit in state court in New York, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. said the newspaper knowingly published false and defamatory statements when the Op-Ed piece claimed the campaign had an "overarching deal" with "Vladimir Putin's oligarchy" to defeat the Democratic candidate.
The lawsuit blamed the newspaper for the essay, saying the March 2019 article headlined "The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo," by Max Frankel, said the deal called for "the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy."
Frankel was executive editor of the Times from 1986 to 1994.
The lawsuit said Times reporters had confirmed the falsity of the statements, but the newspaper published them anyway because of its "extreme bias against and animosity toward the Campaign, and The Times' exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020."
According to the lawsuit, the campaign sued to recover unspecified damages, publicly establish the truth, properly inform the newspaper's readers and the rest of the world and to seek appropriate remedies for the harm.
While briefing the media on the COVID-19 virus Wednesday evening, Trump fielded a question about the lawsuit and said the Times piece was beyond an opinion.
Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said in a statement that the Trump campaign "has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable. 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."
Brian Hauss, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in free speech, privacy and technology, said the lawsuit was "completely meritless."
"A publisher cannot be held liable for commentary based on public facts. If the law were any different, President Trump himself could be held liable for asserting that the Democrats colluded with Russia," he said in a statement.