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Trump campaign sues New York Times for libel over Russia collusion op-ed

President Donald Trump talks to members of the press before visiting Dayton and El Paso. (Dan Scavino/Wikimedia Commons)
February 26, 2020

President Donald Trump’s campaign announced a lawsuit against the New York Times on Wednesday, alleging the paper committed libel in publishing an opinion piece that alleged collusion between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The campaign alleges a March 2019 article defamed Trump with knowingly false claims of an “overarching deal” he held with the Russian government in which he would trade sanctions relief in exchange for their help beating 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times’ op-ed “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” is an opinion piece written by the newspaper’s former executive editor Max Frankel.

“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.”

Trump has claimed he has actually been tougher than past presidential administrations dealing with Russia.

Claims of coordination between the Russian government and the 2016 Trump campaign circulated throughout the lead up to the 2016 election and became a subject of Robert Mueller’s nearly two year Special Counsel investigation. Mueller’s investigation concluded in March of 2019 without establishing proof of coordination between Trump and the Russian government. Frankel’s article was published just days after the Mueller probe concluded.

“The Defamatory Article does not allege or refer to any proof of its claims of a ‘quid pro quo’ or ‘deal’ between the Campaign and Russia. Rather, the Defamatory Article selectively refers to previously-reported contacts between a Russian lawyer and persons connected with the Campaign,” the civil complaint states. “The Defamatory Article, however, insinuates that these contacts must have resulted in a quid pro quo or a deal, and the Defamatory Article does not acknowledge that, in fact, there had been extensive reporting, including in The Times, that the meetings and contacts that the Defamatory Article refers to did not result in any quid pro quo or deal between the Campaign and Russia, or anyone connected with either of them.”

The complaint further claims the New York Times article is false and that it’s falsity was confirmed by Mueller’s Special Counsel report. Politicians have continued to claim collusion between Trump and Russia, even after Mueller’s report failed to establish evidence to support that allegation.

In February, as the U.S. Senate claims Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to take up investigations of Joe Biden, Democratic lawmakers returned to claims about collusion between Trump and Russia. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) warned that if senators failed to remove Trump from office, the president could “offer Alaska to the Russians” in exchange for their support in the 2020 elections.

The Trump campaign is seeking millions of dollars in damages, but has not listed a specific monetary amount it feels it is owed as a result of the opinion article.

“The Trump Campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” the New York Times said in a statement provided to CNBC. “Fortunately, the law protects the rights of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”

Frankel declined to provide a comment to CNBC reporters.