Federal Judge Rudy Contreras has dismissed a lawsuit from the Trump campaign challenging The Washington Post over two articles covering both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, although he did not do so with prejudice, as the legal concept goes, instead allowing the campaign to file an amended complaint if it so chooses.
One of the articles said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller found the Trump campaign “tried to conspire with” Russian interests meddling in U.S. elections in 2016, and the other claimed Trump “invited” Russia and North Korea to provide assistance to his ultimately unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2020. The latter piece linked to an interview Trump did for ABC in which he provided what could be deemed an open-ended invitation for help, although he was rather passive. Trump indicated he would accept information that could help his campaign from foreign countries, and the article from the Post included a direct link to the ABC interview where the then-president made those comments.
Contreras ruled on a motion from the Post for dismissal after years of delays, including after Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was later confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, left her post where she was handling the matter, moving to an appeals position. A third federal judge was also involved before Contreras. Contreras concluded that the Trump campaign failed to adequately allege a claim of actual malice as required in regards to both of the disputed articles. The judge quoted portions of original claims from Trump’s corner that sound like Donald’s legal team was copying and pasting from the relevant portions of federal law and just sometimes inserting the relevant proper nouns. Notably, Contreras also rebuked the argument that supposed political bias on the part of the author of the first article and the Post supported claims of actual malice, marking yet another high-profile instance in which Trump’s claims he is being politically targeted were shut down. (Another is in his ongoing legal dispute with Letitia James.)
Contreras also discussed a series of contextual elements that undercut claims of actual malice over both articles, including that the piece about the Mueller report clearly shows the author providing careful qualifications for his statements and that the article about Trump supposedly inviting campaign help from Russia directly links to the ABC interview, besides being clearly situated — both in tone and overall presentation — as opinion. Generally, so-called pure opinions, as defined under the relevant legal standards, can not be the subject of claims of defamation. A so-called mixed opinion carries the implication of undisclosed facts, suggesting, of course, original reporting, and the judge concluded the second article didn’t meet that standard.
“A reader reviewing the transcript of the ABC interview may ultimately disagree with Mr. Waldman’s view that Trump “invited” North Korea’s assistance, however colorfully interpreted, but that is irrelevant,” as the judge explained it.