MANHATTAN (CN) – Escalating President Donald Trump’s war on the media, his campaign sued The New York Times for defamation Wednesday over its 2019 editorial titled “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo.”
The March 27 opinion piece by former Times executive editor Max Frankel ran shortly before special counsel Robert Mueller released a report concluding that he could not prove a criminal conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
“There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they 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,” Frankel wrote. “The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo.”
The Trump campaign calls these lines defamatory and seeks punitive damages in Manhattan Supreme Court.
“It is not entirely surprising that The Times would publish such a blatant false attack against the campaign,” the 8-page complaint states. “There is extensive evidence that The Times is extremely biased against the Campaign, and against Republicans in general.”
A representative for the Times said the paper looks forward to vindicating the right to have an opinion.
“The Trump Campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance.”
Routinely describing reporters as the “enemies of the people,” Trump’s frequent attacks on the U.S. news media have caused the nation’s press freedom rankings and other democratic indicators to plummet. The United States now ranks 48th on Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index, following a three-place drop last year and consecutive two-point drops in 2017 and 2018.
The Economist Intelligence Unit classified the United States as a “flawed democracy” for the first time in 2018.