Washington Post Editorials Skewered by Trump Campaign as Libelous

WASHINGTON (CN) — In its second lawsuit against a national media outlet in less than a week, the Trump campaign accused the Washington Post on Tuesday of libeling it in two opinion pieces that mention foreign inference in U.S. elections.

Filed in Washington federal court, the complaint against the Post focuses on two articles published in June, two months after then-special counsel Robert Mueller had released his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Six months later meanwhile, the House would impeach President Donald Trump on evidence that he had been pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in North Charleston, S.C., on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Post published the first of its challenged articles on June 13, responding to what at the time had been a new interview with ABC News where Trump said he would listen if a foreign country offered damaging information on a political opponent.

Condemning Trump’s comments in the article, Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up election-security bills aimed at countering foreign interference. The Trump campaign says Sargent crossed the line, however, in asserting that Mueller had found the Trump campaign “tried to conspire with, and happily profited off of” Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Labeling that statement as false, the campaign says Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

The report itself was more nuanced. While Mueller said his investigation could not establish a conspiracy between the campaign and Russia, he also said the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

Opinion writer Paul Waldman’s byline appears on the second Post article challenged by the Trump campaign. Published June 20, this article lamented Trump’s apparent plans to run a re-election campaign focused solely on his base. In one line, Waldman wondered “what sort of aid Russia and North Korea will give to the Trump campaign, now that he has invited them to offer their assistance?”

The article links to the ABC interview Sargent wrote about a week earlier.

The complaint accuses the Washington Post of a systematic liberal slant and calls both Sargent and Waldman “extremely biased against the campaign,” noting the opinion writers have been critical of the Trump administration and have been described as liberal.

“The statements were and are 100 percent false and defamatory,” the Trump campaign said in a press release. “The complaint alleges The Post was aware of its falsity at the time it published them, but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process. The campaign files suit to publicly establish the truth and seek appropriate legal remedies for the harm caused by false reporting.”

The Washington Post has been one of Trump’s most frequent targets in the media, as he has repeatedly bashed the paper over what he perceives as unfairly negative coverage.

Kristine Coratti Kelly, the vice president of communications for The Washington Post, said the paper will fight the claims in court.

“It’s disappointing to see the president’s campaign committee resorting to these types of tactics and we will vigorously defend this case,” Kelly said in a statement.

The lawsuit also sparked condemnation Tuesday from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

“The uptick we have seen in frivolous, seemingly politically motivated lawsuits against news organizations is deeply disturbing,” Bruce Brown, executive director of the committee, said in a statement. “Using the press as a punching bag to bolster a campaign is a cynical and polarizing tactic. And forcing reporters and news outlets to devote valuable time and resources to legal defense and away from critical reporting ultimately harms the public.”

The Trump campaign filed a similar lawsuit against The New York Times last week.

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