Donald Trump has been suing his critics for most of his life. It’s been a core part of his approach to business and being a public figure. In three decades as a celebrity and mogul, he filed more than 4,000 lawsuits. Nothing about that behavior has changed since he’s become president. In recent weeks, the president has filed defamation lawsuits against The New York Times and The Washington Post, over op-ed articles about his controversies.
Last Wednesday, the Trump campaign filed suit against the Times over an article in the Opinion section titled “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” by Max Frankel, a former executive editor of the newspaper. Frankel’s piece described what he called “an overarching deal” between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives leading up to the election, with an exchange of “the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.”
This statement is characterized in the Trump lawsuit as a “false” attempt by the Times to “misinform and mislead its own readers.” The lawsuit also claimed that the Times has displayed “extreme bias against and animosity toward” Trump’s campaign.
The Times plans to fight the suit in court. “The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” said a Times spokesperson, 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,” she added. “We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”
The suit against the Post, filed Tuesday, also takes issue with op-ed pieces about Trump’s foreign entanglements. Both articles were published last June; the first, from June 13, was written by Greg Sargent and titled, “Trump just invited another Russian attack. Mitch McConnell is making one more likely.”
The second, written by Paul Waldman, came out a week later and was titled, “Trump: I can win re-election with just my base.” In the lawsuit, Trump’s campaign took issue with Waldman posing a question: “Who knows what sort of aid Russia and North Korea will give to the Trump campaign, now that he has invited them to offer their assistance?”
In a statement, Trump’s campaign alleged that the Post published the articles “for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process.” A Post spokeswoman meanwhile told The Wall Street Journal that it's “disappointing to see the president’s campaign committee resorting to these types of tactics.”
Both of the lawsuits against the newspapers allege damages “in the millions of dollars.” Neither one is expected to be successful, given the high burden of proof for a public official to win a defamation lawsuit and the protections enshrined by the First Amendment.