Donald Trump Campaign Sues Wisconsin TV Station Over Ad Criticizing His Coronavirus Response

Trump at February 28 campaign rally
President Donald Trump appears at a rally on the eve before the South Carolina primary on February 28, 2020 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The Trump administration is coming under increased criticism from democrats for not doing enough to prepare America for the Coronavirus. Spencer Platt/Getty

President Trump's re-election campaign filed a defamation lawsuit Monday against a Rhinelander, Wisconsin, television station owner for airing a Democratic Super PAC advertisement criticizing the president's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit comes several weeks after the campaign sent the station a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the advertisement be withdrawn from the station's broadcast schedule.

Called "Exponential Threat," the ad was produced by Priorities USA and features an animated graph depicting the rising number of novel coronavirus infections as a series of Trump's statements play in rapid succession.

The Trump campaign's suit alleges that the station, WJFW-NBC, defamed the president by broadcasting the ad because it "was produced through the use of digital technology by taking audio clips from Trump Campaign events and piecing those clips together to manufacture a blatantly false statement that was never said by President Trump."

According to the complaint filed in the Price County, Wisconsin Circuit Court, that statement occurs at the ad's outset, when a short clip of Trump saying "the coronavirus" is immediately followed by another clip of him taken from a February 28 campaign rally, shouting: "This is their new hoax."

The clip from the February 28 rally is just a small snippet of a longer speech Trump delivered to a Charleston, South Carolina audience, during which he accused Democrats of "politicizing the coronavirus.

"This is their new hoax," he said, adding that Democrats had become fixated on criticizing his then-subdued response to the virus as the party's "single talking point."

The 30-second spot also concludes with a clip from the President's March 13 news conference in which he responded to a reporter's question on whether he should be blamed for the lack of COVID-19 tests with the statement: "No, I don't take responsibility at all."

The Trump campaign's suit cites "Check Your Fact," a conservative-friendly fact-checking site run by The Daily Caller and a Washington Post fact check of a similar ad by former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign to support the claim that Trump did not call COVID-19 a "hoax."

The lawsuit against WJFW-NBC is the third defamation lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign against a media outlet in as many months.

In February, the campaign sued The New York Times for libel over an op-ed called "The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo." The campaign filed a second libel suit against The Washington Post the next month over two opinion articles concerning the Trump campaign's alleged contacts with the Russian government.

In a statement, Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis said it was "disappointing that WJFW-NBC would knowingly continue to broadcast this blatantly false ad and perpetuate falsehoods on the American people, even after the Trump campaign provided proof in good faith of the ad's falsity."

Ellis added that because the campaign's cease-and-desist letter went unheeded, the campaign "was left with no other option than to use the force of law to ensure these false and defamatory ads cease."

Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil told Newsweek by text message that Trump "doesn't want voters to hear the truth" and is "trying to bully TV stations into submission."

"The truth is that Trump ignored warnings from experts and his own team and downplayed the coronavirus even as it spread unchecked across the country and the world. Americans are now suffering as a result of his inaction," Cecil said, adding that his group "will never stop airing the facts and holding the president accountable for his actions."