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Donald Trump Sues CNN For $475 Million Over “Big Lie” References

Deadline
Deadline
 2022-10-03
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Donald Trump, CNN Getty

Donald Trump fired off his latest defamation lawsuit against a news outlet Monday, this time seeking $475 million in punitive damages from CNN over what his lawyers say was an effort to “defame the Plaintiff in the minds of its viewers and readers for the purpose of defeating him politically.”

Trump’s lawsuit (read it here) focuses on references made by CNN on-air figures to the “Big Lie,” or the former president’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. Trump contends that the references compare him to Adolf Hitler.

“CNN’s highly defamatory and persistent association of the Plaintiff to Hitler and Hitler’s ‘Big Lie’ is no mistaken misappropriation,” Trump’s attorneys write. “It is wanton and malicious ‘reporting’ intended to feed a narrative and to achieve a desired end: to cause readers and viewers to associate the Plaintiff with the lowest of low, to fear him, to not vote for him, and to support campaigns against him. The inflammatory ‘reporting’ is not intended to help discover truth or actual facts or to help educate readers and viewers to come to their own informed decisions. It is intended to aggravate, scare, and trigger people. Indeed, the Hitler characterization is one that courts across jurisdictions have historically considered defamation per se.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, follows Trump’s threat of legal action against the Warner Bros Discovery-owned cable net last summer.

The lawsuit claims that CNN’s “campaign of dissuasion in the form of libel and slander against the Plaintiff has only escalated in recent months as CNN fears the Plaintiff will run for president in 2024.”

Trump has a high threshold to clear in the suit, as he has to prove that CNN acted maliciously with reckless disregard for the truth.

The lawsuit also cites five examples of the use of the term “The Big Lie” or election lies that Trump’s attorneys say the network has refused to retract. They including a January 25, 2021, CNN opinion article by Ruth Ben-Ghiat; July 5 and September 15 pieces by Chris Cillizza; a January 16 reference to “the Big Lie” by Jake Tapper on State of the Union; and another Cillizza piece from February 11. But the lawsuit also takes issue with other moments on CNN when guests made the comparison to Trump and Hitler, including one made by Linda Ronstadt during an interview with Anderson Cooper in 2019.

A CNN spokesperson said that they had no comment.

According to Trump’s lawsuit, the network’s attorneys replied to its legal threat by writing that the former president had “not identified a single false or defamatory statement” and that it was “well-established that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was unaffected by fraud, as verified by the dismissal of no fewer than 50 lawsuits by judges across the United States asserting otherwise, the sanctioning of multiple attorneys for making unsubstantiated election-fraud claims, and investigations conducted by the Department of Justice, Congress, and various state and local bodies.”

In 2020, Trump’s presidential campaign sued CNN over an op-ed written by Larry Noble that “the Trump campaign assessed the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia’s help in 2020 and has decided to leave that option on the table.” Although the judge wrote that the statement could be interpreted as fact, not opinion, he concluded that the Trump campaign had failed to sufficiently allege malice.

Trump’s litigation also noted that Chris Licht, who became chairman and CEO of CNN in May, “reportedly held a conference call with top CNN producers in which he expressed displeasure with the use of ‘Big Lie.’ Since then, CNN’s on-air personalities — including John King, Jake Tapper, John Avlon, Brianna Keilar, and Don Lemon, among others — have continued to use the phrase in describing the Plaintiff and the Plaintiff’s questions of election integrity despite an apparent admonition from their Chief Executive Officer.”

Trump’s lawsuit comes as The New York Times‘ Maggie Haberman embarks on a publicity tour for her long-awaited book about Trump, Confidence Man, with a series of damaging revelations. Trump also claims that CNN tarred him with the “racist” label. But on Friday, the former president referred to Elaine Chao, his former secretary of transportation who is of Asian descent, as “Coco Chow.” The reference came in a Truth Social rant about Chao’s husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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