The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the New York Times, alleging that the paper had defamed him by running a column that alluded to an “overarching deal” between Trump and Russia.
The column, entitled “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” was written by Max Frankel, the 89-year-old former executive editor of the Times. It was published on March 29, 2019, a few days after Attorney General William Barr issued his four-page summary of the Mueller Report on Russian election interference, but before the redacted report had been released.
Barr had reported that the Mueller investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia. President Trump and his supporters took that as affirmation of their claim that there was “no collusion” with Russia.
In his opinion piece, Frankel wrote that the term “collusion” had proven to be a “rhetorical trap.”
“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.”
In the lawsuit, filed by Trump attorney Charles Harder, alleges that the Times’ own reporting had already established that there was no “deal” with Putin, and that the Times acted with “extreme bias” by publishing the column.
In response, the Times stressed that Frankel’s piece expressed his opinion.
“The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” said Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy in a statement. “Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”
The lawsuit concedes that Trump is a public figure, which sets a much higher bar for establishing defamation. The Trump campaign claims it can prove the Times acted with “a malicious motive” and “reckless disregard for the truth.”