Judge Dismisses Donald Trump Campaign Libel Suit Against CNN

A federal judge has dismissed a libel suit that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign filed against CNN earlier this year, concluding that the president’s team had failed to sufficiently allege that the network maliciously published a June 13, 2019 op ed.

At issue was a piece by Larry Noble, a website contributor, who wrote in a column 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.” The piece was written in the aftermath of the release of details of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The Trump campaign filed suit against CNN in March, among a series of legal actions it took against media outlets. Trump’s lawyers have a high threshold for providing their case, as they have to show that the network knew the statement was false but published it anyway or acted with gross negligence.

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In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Michael L. Brown wrote that “most of the allegations in the complaint regarding actual malice are conclusory. Plaintiff, for example, alleges in a purely conclusory manner that Defendants ‘clearly had a malicious motive’ and ‘knowingly disregarded all . . . information when it published the Defamatory Article.’”

Brown did leave the door open for the Trump campaign to file an amended complaint. And he rejected CNN’s claims that Noble’s piece was not actionable because it was a statement of opinion, not fact. Even though the article was labeled as his own opinion, Brown wrote, the sentence itself can be taken as an assertion of fact.

“His opinion lies on both sides with the Statement as a factual allegation bringing them together,” Brown wrote. “The context of the Statement (both in the article and in Mr. Noble’s discussion of current events) suggest to readers that the Statement is a statement of fact, not opinion.”

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