WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge tossed claims Tuesday over reporting on payments that a powerful Russian billionaire made to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Represented by attorneys at Boies, Schiller and Flexner, aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska brought the defamation complaint in May against the Associated Press.
Two months earlier, journalists Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day reported on a $10 million annual contract that Deripaska struck with Manafort to advance Russian interests.
An oligarch closely allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Deripaska brought a federal defamation complaint against the AP in May, saying the story improperly implicated him in the controversy surrounding Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and in the Trump campaign’s suspected collusion with Russian officials to steer the election.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle dismissed the case Tuesday for a simple reason: “the article makes no such statement.”
“Deripaska has cherry-picked sentences and strung them together to give the AP’s article an effect it does not have when read in full,” the 21-page ruling states.
Boies Schiller attorneys Jonathan Schiller and Jonathan Sherman have not returned an email seeking comment on the ruling.
Huvelle said Deripaska had failed to identify any false statement in the story that could be verified, and that had defamatory meaning.
Deripaska had complained that the AP story implicated him in a crime because it said that Manafort did not register as a foreign agent when the two worked together, though willful failure to register is a felony. Deripaska also denied that the two had any such agreement to advance Russian interests abroad.
Huvelle determined, however, that such allegations do not rise to the level of defamation.
“Even if the article falsely states that Deripaska and Manafort had a contract to promote Russian interests, as the court assumes here, that statement fails to convey any defamatory meaning,” the opinion says.
Under the law, Deripaska is a limited-purpose public figure who voluntarily injected himself into a public controversy, the court found. As such he needed to show that the AP acted with actual malice or reckless disregard in publishing the story. Huvelle said he did “not come close.” “Deripaska is no stranger to news coverage related to his role as a Russian oligarch and one of Putin’s closest confidantes,” the ruling states. “The court notes that Deripaska does not dispute any material facts presented in the AP’s discussion of the factual background as it relates to Deripaska’s biography and his role in advancing Russian interests internationally.”
In fact Deripaska is quoted in the ruling as bragging to reporters: “I don’t separate myself from the state.”
Huvelle also shot down Deripaska’s argument that the AP intentionally omitted crucial background information about the political context of Ukraine in 2005 at the time of his dealings with Manafort.
To meet that standard, the ruling says, Deripaska would have to show “evidence of fabrication, evidence that the story was ‘so inherently improbable that only a reckless man would have put [it] in circulation,’ and evidence that it was ‘based wholly on an unverified anonymous telephone call or some other source that the defendant had obvious reasons to doubt.’”
Associated Press spokeswoman Lauren Easton applauded the ruling.
“The Associated Press is pleased with the court’s decision,” Easton said in an email. “As we have said, we stand by our reporting and will continue to stand by our story.”