President Trump’s reelection campaign sued The New York Times for libel on Wednesday, alleging that an op-ed article published by the newspaper falsely asserted a “quid pro quo” between Russian officials and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Trump often threatens to sue media organizations but rarely follows through. The lawsuit, filed in New York state court in Manhattan, is the first time his political operation has taken legal action against an American news outlet since he took office.
The lawsuit concerns an essay published by the Opinion section of The Times in March 2019. The article, headlined “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” was written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of The Times from 1986 to 1994. (The Opinion section of The Times operates separately from its newsroom.)
In the essay, Frankel wrote about communications between Trump’s inner circle and Russian emissaries in the lead-up to the 2016 election. He concluded that, rather than any “detailed electoral collusion,” the Trump campaign and Russian officials instead “had an overarching deal”: “the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.”
The Trump lawsuit argues that this conclusion “is false” and that The Times published the essay “knowing it would misinform and mislead its own readers.” The suit also accuses The Times, without evidence, of harboring “extreme bias against and animosity toward” Trump’s reelection campaign.
The Times responded shortly after the suit was filed Wednesday. “The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for The Times, said in a statement.
“Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance,” Murphy added. “We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Trump campaign by Charles J. Harder, a lawyer with a reputation for waging aggressive legal battles against prominent news organizations.
Harder is best known for representing Terry G. Bollea, the former professional wrestler known as Hulk Hogan, in a lawsuit against Gawker Media.