Trump Campaign Sues NYT Over Russia Scandal Opinion Story, Says Paper Intended to Hurt the Campaign

President Donald Trump's reelection campaign has filed suit against The New York Times, arguing that the paper published an allegedly libelous opinion piece that made false claims about the campaign's relationship with Russia in 2016.

The campaign filed suit Tuesday over a March 2019 opinion article by Max Frankel, a former executive editor for the paper. Frankel claimed in the piece that Trump and Russia had an "overarching deal" ahead of the 2016 election. The lawsuit claims that the April 2019 report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller is evidence that the article is libelous.

"Today the President's re-election campaign filed suit against the New York Times for falsely stating the campaign had an 'overarching deal' with 'Vladimir Putin's oligarchy' to 'help the campaign against Hillary Clinton' in exchange for 'a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from ... economic sanctions,'" said Trump campaign Senior Legal Adviser Jenna Ellis in a statement.

"The statements were and are 100 percent false and defamatory. The complaint alleges The Times was aware of the 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," Ellis added.

The lawsuit, which seeks millions in damages, also claims that the paper is "extremely biased against the campaign, and against Republicans in general." Trump has launched frequent attacks against the news media, including The New York Times, which he has previously called a "true enemy of the people."

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to the media during a press conference in New Delhi, India on February 25, 2020. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

The Mueller investigation ultimately found that Russia did interfere in the election to Trump's benefit but did not find enough evidence to prove allegations that Trump or his campaign colluded with the Kremlin. It also failed to exonerate the president from allegations of collusion.

The Frankel piece argued that collusion was an unnecessary distraction from an alleged actual "quid pro quo" arrangement between Trump and Russia.

"Collusion — or a lack of it — turns out to have been the rhetorical trap that ensnared President Trump's pursuers," Frankel wrote in the 2019 article. "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."

The Trump campaign may have a difficult time proving their case, as libel is often considered a tough standard to meet, especially when public figures or officials are involved.

The party filing suit must prove that a false claim was made, and that it was made with "actual malice." The standard of "actual malice" was established in a 1964 case that also involved The New York Times.

"The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable," said New York 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," added Murphy. "We look forward to vindicating that right in this case."