Judge Allows Trump Campaign to File Amended Claims After Dismissing Libel Suit Against CNN

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed the Trump campaign’s libel suit against CNN over an opinion piece, which suggested that the campaign had improper ties with Russia.

Judge Michael Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled to dismiss the suit because it failed to sufficiently plead malice, a legal standard needed to be proven in defamation cases against a public figure. But Brown gave the Trump campaign until the end of the month to file an amended complaint in order to continue with the lawsuit.

The case at hand involves the Trump campaign’s objection to a statement in a June 13, 2019, opinion piece by Larry Noble, a CNN contributor and former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission.

After referring to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Noble wrote, “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 campaign subsequently sued the media outlet for libel, arguing that the statement was “defamatory and false and that, at the time of publication, Defendants knew it was false.”

The judge agreed with CNN’s arguments that the Trump campaign failed to adequately show “actual malice” in its suit, saying that allegations relating to the standard “are conclusory.”

“The complaint’s allegation that Defendants were ‘aware at the time of publication’ that the Statement was false due to ‘[e]xtensive public information’ is also conclusory and without factual support,” the judge wrote in his opinion (pdf). “Allegations such as these amount to little more than ‘[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,’ which are insufficient to support a cause of action.”

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Trump has throughout his presidency battled news media he believes display bias against him. The president has often branded CNN, a subsidiary of AT&T Inc., as “fake news.”

The Trump campaign has also sued other new agencies for libel. In March, the campaign filed a lawsuit against The Washington Post, alleging the paper published two defamatory opinion articles about it last year causing “millions” in damage. One of the articles said, in part, that special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that the campaign “tried to conspire with” Moscow’s campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. The campaign said that was “false and defamatory.”

Meanwhile, the second article said the statement, “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,” was also “false and defamatory.”

Reuters and Petr Svab contributed to this report.