Trump Campaign Suing All His Media 'Enemies': Files Another Silly SLAPP Suit Over CNN Opinion Piece

from the opening-up-our-libel-laws dept

Just as the country starts dealing with what the hell it's going to be doing about Covid19, the President and his campaign have decided that now is the time to file laughable SLAPP suits against every one of the media entities on his usual thin-skinned enemies list. First it was the NY Times, then it was the Washington Post, and on Friday, it was the third in his triumvirate of media he loves to hate: CNN. As with the first two, this is yet another Charles Harder joint, and, as with the first two, this is suing over an opinion piece. Also, as with the first two, this is a laughably vexatious lawsuit, in which he is assaulting the very 1st Amendment he has sworn an oath to protect and defend.

You can read the CNN opinion piece that the campaign is suing about. It's by Larry Noble, the former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, and is similar in many ways to the pieces he sued about in the Washington Post, arguing that an interpretation of the Mueller report in a manner displeasing to the President is somehow defamatory. That's ridiculous and everyone involved in this lawsuit should be embarrassed.

On or about June 13,2019, CNN published an article on the website entitled "Soliciting dirt on your opponents from a foreign government is a crime. Mueller should have charged Trump campaign officials with it" by Larry Noble (the "Defamatory Article"). The Defamatory Article claims, among other things, that the Campaign "assessed the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia's help in 2020 and has decided to leave that option on the table." The Defamatory Article does not cite to any facts or reasoning in support of this claim.

The Defamatory Article is false. In fact, the Campaign has repeatedly and openly disclaimed any intention to seek Russian involvement in the 2020 election. The examples of this are too numerous to fully enumerate, but examples include: (a) then-Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated on August 2,2078 that "[s]ince the beginning of his administration, President Trump has implemented a whole-of-government approach to safeguard our nation's elections. The President has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation-state or other dangerous actor"; (b) on September 12, 2018, while signing an executive order imposing sanctions on foreign countries who interfere in United States elections, the White House issued a statement that "the United States will not tolerate any form of foreign meddling in our elections"; and (c) on May 13, 2019, the White House stated it would not use any information hacked or stolen by foreign adversaries in the 2020 election.

Contrary to this summary in the complaint, if you read the actual article by Noble, he clearly cites the basis for his arguments, and clearly lays out the facts on which he bases his opinion. Indeed, he cites some very specific details and the specific law he is talking about. Here's just a snippet, but it goes much further in details in the article.

During the meeting, held in Trump Tower, Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort were told that two brothers who "had engaged in tax evasion and money laundering" had donated to the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign. According to the report, "Trump Jr. asked follow-up questions about how the alleged payments could be tied specifically to the Clinton Campaign," but was told that the Russians "could not trace the money once it entered the United States." Apparently, not impressed with the information, Kushner "became aggravated and asked, "(W)hat are we doing here?'" The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), 52 U.S.C. §30121(a)(1), prohibits foreign nationals from "directly or indirectly" contributing "money or other thing of value" in connection with any US election. Another part of the law prohibits a person from "knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving contributions or donations from foreign nationals." If a person acts knowingly and willfully, meaning with general knowledge that their actions were unlawful, and the value of the contribution is $2,000 or more, it is a criminal violation. If the value is $25,000 or more, it is a felony.

When Trump Jr. replied he loved it to the offer of free Russian opposition research intended to help his father win the election, and then attended a meeting that included Kushner and Manafort to receive that information, he solicited an illegal contribution from a foreign government.

This is not some random tossed off argument -- nor does it come anywhere even remotely close to meeting the necessary bar for defamation.

Once again, the intent is likely performative -- rallying Trump's base against the media as we head into election season -- rather than with any legitimate basis in law.

This case has been filed in federal court in Georgia, home of CNN. Some may note that Georgia actually has a semi-decent anti-SLAPP law, but unfortunately (and, I believe, incorrectly as a matter of law), the 11th Circuit is one of those that has said that state anti-SLAPP laws do not apply in federal court (in fact, it did so in a case involving CNN -- Carbone v. CNN, if you're keeping track). That means, CNN won't be able to make use of the anti-SLAPP law to get the case kicked out quickly, and to have the Trump campaign pay attorneys' fees.

As with the other two cases, this one is being brought on behalf of the campaign, rather than Donald Trump himself as a party. Whether or not this limits Trump's own liability -- or his exposure to potential discovery requests -- will be an interesting element to watch as these (and any other) cases move forward.

Either way, between these Harder/Trump campaign suits and the various Steven Biss/Devin Nunes suits, it appears that the Republican party is quickly positioning itself as the party of chilling effects and silencing a free press. This is shameful behavior and should be called out as such.

Filed Under: 11th circuit, 1st amendment, anti-slapp, charles harder, defamation, donald trump, free speech, georgia, larry noble, opinions, slapp
Companies: at&t, cnn, time warner

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  1. identicon
    Robin, 16 Mar 2020 @ 9:02am


    Donald Trump is all about suing others for doing the opposite of the lying he does daily... His complaining about lying would have more impact if he wasn't the real liar here.

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