Trump Sues CNN for $475 Million in Defamation Lawsuit

Former President Donald Trump is suing CNN in a $475 million defamation lawsuit, according to a complaint filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida on Monday. The lawsuit faces significant challenges under the governing precedent for public figures. For counsel, those challenges likely seem steeper in a week when Trump unleashed reckless and offensive attacks on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his wife former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao as well as journalist, Maggie Haberman. It is not exactly the context that counsel would want when seeking to hold CNN liable for defamatory comments in a difficult legal action.

Even without these inflammatory and personal attacks, Trump faces a very steep hill to climb in a defamation case. As a public figure, he is subject to the standard created in New York Times v. Sullivan, where the Supreme Court held that the first amendment requires breathing space for free speech in criticizing public officials. Accordingly, it established an “actual malice” standard requiring a showing that a false statement was made “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” That standard was later extended to not just public officials but public figures.

As president, Trump denounced the standard and called for its removal — a move that I criticized at the time. While I have questioned the need for a public figure standard (as opposed to a public official standard), I have noted that Trump has been a beneficiary of this rule — as this week’s personal attacks demonstrates.

Trump has brought a series of rejected defamation actions, including against CNN.

Here is the nut of the complaint:

“One of the most pervasive associations between the plaintiff and Hitler that CNN has employed is its use of the term the ‘Big Lie’ in relation to the plaintiff’s stated concerns about the integrity of the election process for the 2020 presidential election,” read the court filing. “In its campaign of dissuasion, CNN has branded the plaintiff as one who subscribes to the notion of the ‘Big Lie’… a direct reference to a tactic employed by Adolf Hitler and appearing in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.”

The complaint added:

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. As a part of its concerted effort to tilt the political balance to the Left, CNN has tried to taint the Plaintiff with a series of ever-more scandalous, false, and defamatory labels of “racist,” “Russian lackey,” “insurrectionist,” and ultimately “Hitler.”

There is no question that CNN has aired unrelenting attacks on Trump since his inauguration. Moreover, such statements are not entirely made on the commentary side of the network but with reporters and hosts covering stories. Notably, Fox is being sued for defamation over coverage of Dominion voting machines.

Many of these characterizations may be attacked as unprofessional but likely fall short of the actual malice standard. In addition, many are likely to be treated as opinion.  Aspects of the filing are reminiscent of Wilkow v. Forbes, Inc., 241 F.3d 552 (7th Cir. 2001) where a journalist with Forbes was sued for harsh characterizations of a lawyer and his practice. Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that “although the article drips with disapproval of Wilkow’s (and the judges’) conduct, an author’s opinion about business ethics isn’t defamatory under Illinois law.”

It is possible to prevail if the allegation is factual and specific and false.

The public figure standard was established in Curtis Publishing v. Butts (1967). The case involved a March 23, 1963 edition of The Saturday Evening Post alleging that former University of Georgia football coach Wallace Butts conspired with University of Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant to fix a 1962 football game in Alabama’s favor. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice Warren wrote a concurrence that extended the ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan on public officials to public figures. He found the same reasons for applying the higher standard to public officials as present in cases involving public figures:

[I]t is plain that, although they are not subject to the restraints of the political process, “public figures,” like “public officials,” often play an influential role in ordering society. And surely, as a class, these “public figures” have as ready access as “public officials” to mass media of communication, both to influence policy and to counter criticism of their views and activities. Our citizenry has a legitimate and substantial interest in the conduct of such persons, and freedom of the press to engage in uninhibited debate about their involvement in public issues and events is as crucial as it is in the case of “public officials.” The fact that they are not amenable to the restraints of the political process only underscores the legitimate and substantial nature of the interest, since it means that public opinion may be the only instrument by which society can attempt to influence their conduct.

The Court ruled in favor of Butts, and The Saturday Evening Post was ordered to pay $3.06 million (later reduced to $460,000) to Butts in damages. That case, however, involved a specific allegation of a fixed game, not hyperbolic or partisan rhetoric.

Notably, Curtis was decided joined with Associated Press v. Walker, involving former Gen. Edwin Walker who opposed desegregation. In one article, the Associated Press claimed that Walker had “led a charge of students against federal marshals” and “commanded” those opposing the admission of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi.  He prevailed at trial.  However, the Court found that AP was not liable under the actual malice standard, even as a matter of reckless disregard. Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote for himself and three other justices (and joined by concurring justices) in noting that Walker was a “public figure,” given the fact that “his personal activity amount[ed] to a thrusting of his personality into the ‘vortex’ of an important public controversy.” Harlan also noted that Walker “commanded sufficient access to the means of counterargument to be able to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies of the defamatory statements.” Liability, Harlan concluded, should only follow “a showing of highly unreasonable conduct constituting an extreme departure from the standards of investigation and reporting ordinarily adhered to by responsible publishers.”

These cases explain why I am skeptical that former President Trump can successfully maintain this action. Even the specific criminal allegation of being an “insurrectionist” is a matter of opinion. It is doubtful that a court will see such over-heated rhetoric as meeting the high standard under the actual malice test.

The case is Trump v. CNN, No. 0:22-cv-61842, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

78 thoughts on “Trump Sues CNN for $475 Million in Defamation Lawsuit”

  1. I think Trump defames CNN at every rally, calling them “Fake News.”

    So they could certainly file a counterclaim.

    1. Trump’s opinion that that CNN is “fake news” is protected speech, just like the opinion of a CNN guest that Trump is “like Hiter” is protected speech. Instead of encouraging CNN to follow Trump’s lead in filing a legally faulty suit, better to just call Trump out on his own faulty suit.

  2. So Trump is sending out fundraising emails today asking him to donate to his legal fund so he can pursue his defamation case against CNN.

    People usually fundraise for a legal defense fund. For offensive litigation – particularly one demanding $450 million in damages – you would think any plaintiff’s law firm would jump at the chance to do this on contingency if it had any reasonable chance of success.

    But these people keep donating money to a “billionaire” who should be able to pay his own lawyers out of his own money. It may be easy to call these people gullible fools, but, well, they are gullible fools.

    Send more money to the billionaire to pwn the libs?

    1. But these people keep donating money to a “billionaire” who should be able to pay his own lawyers out of his own money.

      Old axiom, used by the uber wealthy. “never use your own money. Always use other peoples money. When you borrow other peoples money, borrow A LOT of $. Because, if you borrow a little money and can’t pay it back, You’re in trouble. But it you borrow A LOT of $ and cant pay it back THEY’RE in trouble if you can’t pay it back.”

    1. zzclancy wrote, “Lawyers always win even if they lose in court.”

      That’s not “always” true. I understand your sentiment but the way your statement is worded it’s false.

  3. I remember when Trump was on twitter (and even now when his is on his own site) he defames all sorts of people every day. not just Democrats, either. Many have been subject to death threats and do not have Secret Service protection like Trump does.

    Should he win a suit like this, there is a precedent a lot of people could use against him. If there is a legal standard about defamation it is not just going to apply to the press, it is going to apply to him. There is no way Trump can meet the standard he insists others comply with. He is defamer #1 in the country, while claiming to be the biggest defamation vict8im in the country.

    1. The Trump Defamation Standard wrote, “I remember when Trump was on twitter (and even now when his is on his own site) he defames all sorts of people every day. not just Democrats, either.”

      NEWS FLASH

      Yes, big surprise for everyone, Donald Trump’s unethical loose cannon mouth shows that he’s a hypocrite; however, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t defamation launched against him.

      He’s free to sue anyone he likes for any reason he sees fit just like the rest of us and yes there could be unforeseen consequences to his hypocritical actions.

      1. Sure I could file any lawsuit I want against anyone, but I did not appoint many of the judges who will be hearing the cases. So I do not think my rights are as great as Trump’s in that way. I do not have my personal Judge Cannon and 1/3 of SCOTUS who owe me something.

        1. Judd wrote, “Sure I could file any lawsuit I want against anyone, but I did not appoint many of the judges who will be hearing the cases. So I do not think my rights are as great as Trump’s in that way. I do not have my personal Judge Cannon and 1/3 of SCOTUS who owe me something.”

          Your “rights” are exactly equal to Trump’s rights, period, end of discussion on that point.

          You might want to check your flagrantly obvious anti-Trump bias at the door.

      2. The consequences are not unforeseen. One can anticipate legal consequences for lawyers if they file frivolous suits, along with financial penalties for the plaintiffs. People are not, in fact, “free to sue anyone [they] like for any reason.”

    2. The issue here, as I see it, is that in New York Times v, Sullivan we read: “And surely, as a class, these “public figures” have as ready access as “public officials” to mass media of communication, both to influence policy and to counter criticism of their views and activities. Our citizenry has a legitimate and substantial interest in the conduct of such persons, and freedom of the press to engage in uninhibited debate about their involvement in public issues and events is as crucial as it is in the case of “public officials.”
      But the issue here is that Trump was denied access to most mass media of communication in order to counter criticism. And note in the last sentence that the citizenry should have the right to engage in UNINHIBITED debate. How many conservatives and conservative sights were shut down from Twitter, FB, Instagram. And not allowed a voice on CNN, ABC, NBC, PBS, CBS, or in print?

      1. Bunnies wrote, “I’m no lawyer, but is is considered defamation if it’s actually true?”

        To that point; you’re really not paranoid if everyone (read Democrats) really is out to get you.

        Remember these progressive Democrats’ four tenets of “truth”…

        1. Democrats are right.
        2. Republicans are wrong.
        3. Wrong is evil.
        4. Evil must be destroyed.

        …that’s the dead end of the 21st century progressive Democrats’ ability to think critically.

        It doesn’t matter what Donald Trump does because in the eyes of the political left he’s wrong. It’s pure Trump Derangement Syndrome driving Democrats to lash out as all things “Trump”. I’ll bet some people afflicted with TDS can no longer play a card game like Euchre because it uses the word “trump” and it would trigger them.

        I have been saying for a while that “The political left has shown its pattern of propaganda lies within their narratives so many times since 2016 that it’s beyond me why anyone would blindly accept any narrative that the political left and their lapdog media actively push?” CNN has been a big part of that pattern of propaganda lies for many years.

  4. This is the dumbest case in the courts – at least the dumbest since the last several cases Trump filed against his enemies in court. His conspiracy case against Hillary and a bunch of others was dismissed just a week or so ago and was basically laughed out of court. This one will be too.

    I mean, it is hard to imagine how, if this case were successful, then pretty much every prominent Democratic politician would be able to sue FoxNews for everything it says about them every day. It is most of what FoxNews does.

    It is time to stop treating every case Trump files as somehow plausible and worthy of analysis.

  5. In other news of a possible defamation lawsuit, yesterday GA Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who says he thinks all abortions should be illegal without exceptions, was accused of having paid for his then-girlfriend’s abortion in 2009. The journalist who wrote the story has a receipt from the abortion clinic, an image of a check from Herschel Walker to the woman reimbursing her for the abortion, and a “get well” card that Walker sent her with the check. Walker responded that it’s a “flat-out lie” and that he’ll file a defamation suit. Walker had a child with another woman in 2009, one of several out of wedlock children he’s had with different women; he did not raise most of his kids. Walker has lied about a bunch of things, so it won’t be a surprise if he’s lying about this too.

    Yesterday, Walker’s son Christian tweeted “Every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew (some of) his past. Every single one. He decided to give us the middle finger and air out all of his dirty laundry in public, while simultaneously lying about it. I’m done.
    “I know my mom and I would really appreciate if my father Herschel Walker stopped lying and making a mockery of us. You’re not a “family man” when you left us to bang a bunch of women, threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence.
    “I don’t care about someone who has a bad past and takes accountability. But how DARE YOU LIE and act as though you’re some “moral, Christian, upright man.” You’ve lived a life of DESTROYING other peoples lives. How dare you.”
    In a video, Christian also said (in part) “Family values people: He has four kids, four different women, wasn’t in the house raising one of them. He was out having sex with other women. Do you care about family values?”
    It’s quite the video: https://twitter.com/ChristianWalk1r/status/1577284445367042049

    Here’s hoping that Walker is defeated and that Trump’s effort to make Walker the Republican nominee helps to keep the Senate in the Democrats’ hands.

    1. Big deal. So far it hasn’t been proven that Walker paid for an abortion, and since the left is dishonest, we will never know. It also isn’t important, for what is on the minds of most working people is that their standard of living will fall because of leftist politics and their daughters will be mistreated by leftist rules.

      The only way out of this mess created by Democrats is to cease voting for them and vote for the opposition. One might not get everything they want, but at least their standard of living won’t be destroyed.

  6. Trump can sue anyone he wants based on anything he wants just like anyone else.

    I don’t know if Trump’s case has any real merit; but, at some point in time media outlets like CNN need to be held legally and financially responsible for the intentional defamation and unsupportable lies they constantly spew. Most of the media doesn’t resemble anything close to “journalism” anymore, it’s all biased ends justifies the means opinions and as such needs to be accountable.

    Defamation from the media is a bit out of whack these days. There needs to be some kind of reasonable limitation to how much media outlets can intentionally defame public figures or public officials when they’re spewing intentional unsupportable falsehoods and lies. I’m not talking about crushing free speech, but there’s no accountability for the wealthy media these days for their intentional unsupportable BS.

    1. So do you also support holding those accountable that claim the 2020 election was stolen? 50+ court cases and not one piece of evidence to support the claim.

      1. Sadly, 50+ court cases that were never allowed to proceed. That is how activist judges keep discovery under wraps.

        1. There is nothing “sad” about a court dismissing a suit for lack of standing. It happens every day.

          1. There is nothing “sad” about a court dismissing a suit for lack of standing if that is justified. However, since many judges have been compromised there may be a lot to be sad about. The left seldom worries about the law if they can maneuver themselves around it. That is what some leftist judges do on a regular basis. We even have a black woman on the Supreme Court who doesn’t know what a woman is.

    2. Statements of opinion are not defamation.

      Defamation is a false statement of fact that harms someone’s reputation, and in the case of a public figure, there also has to be “actual malice” (showing that the false statement was knowingly made, not error).

      You don’t quote any examples of actual defamatory statements from CNN. Do you have any? My guess is that you’re referring to opinions you disagree with, not false statements of fact, but I could be wrong about that. No way to know unless you quote actual examples.

    3. “ I don’t know if Trump’s case has any real merit; but, at some point in time media outlets like CNN need to be held legally and financially responsible for the intentional defamation and unsupportable lies they constantly spew.”

      Well, first it has to be prove that the defamation IS intentional. So far what CNN has said is not, just mere opinion. On the other hand we have Fox News which is currently in a defamation lawsuit that HAS proof of intention. Turley mentioned it in passing precisely because he can’t really comment on it because it is still in litigation.

      Tucker Carlson has intentionally made false claims before and he’s always ripe for a defamation suit. His latest is the most glaring example of the need for the type of accountability you cite.

      “ The Biden administration is responsible, either directly or through proxies for the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines and the environmental catastrophe and the economic collapse that will certainly follow.

      That is true. It’s done. So the question is, where does that leave us? And that’s the problem. This act leaves us, the United States, with no option but total war with Russia. There is no off-ramp now. There is no way out. We are all in, no matter what that means, no matter where it goes.”—Tucker Carlson.

      https://www.mediaite.com/tv/tucker-carlson-no-longer-just-asking-questions-unequivocally-declares-biden-responsible-for-nord-stream-pipelines-destruction/

      With no evidence to back up his claim Tucker declared Biden is responsible for the sabotage of the pipeline. He’’s literally defending Putin here. Maybe we should consider holding Fox News accountable for Tucker’s obviously false claims.

    4. MSM is only a political apparatus and mouthpiece for the Democratic National Committee..Ever notice they ALL use the same buzz phrases ie. Rusiia hacked into the 2020 elections…they are a broad avenue which is allowing our Republic to transform itself into a commnist banaa republic…btw do you miss 2% mortgage rates Or 2% inflation OR less crime OR not having an open border which has allowed 5 million illegals of all sorts into our country in the last 18 months OR giving 85 billion in state of the art armaments to the Taliban which losing 13 soldiers in the process?

  7. The media lies consistently, and when it doesn’t make up its own lies, it recycles the lies of the Democratic party. Neither Trump nor his lawyers are stupid, so this lawsuit must have other motives. Exposure of the lies and the people behind them seems to be a reasonable guess.

    1. Do you mean exposure of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen? I’m pretty sure there are lots of court cases where not one bit of evidence supports a stolen election. Or how about inflating his assets to get loans, then deflating the assets to pay taxes? What lies are you talking about?

      1. You do realize every business does this. Tax valuations and generally accepted accounting practices are two different things.

        Market valuations for loans are separate from both.

      2. A big lie was the big steal – I was looking at the Wisconsin results around 3am ON 3 November – Trump was ahead by 120k votes…WHILE I WAS LOOKING AT IT THE NUMBERS BEGAN TO SPIN LIKE A SLOT MACHINE AND VOILA BIDEN WAS NOW AHEAD BY 80K A SWING OF 200K IN LESS THAN 5 SECONDS….No there is too much evidence out there (2000 Mules) – history will reveal the truth —it always does…

      3. 1) Lending institutions conduct their own assessments before lending money. Otherwise I could claim that my house is worth a billion dollars and want to borrow against it. So you are wrong about that one.
        2) All cities, towns, counties conduct their own assessments of property and bill you accordingly. Otherwise I would tell my town that my house is only worth 5k and pay property tax on that. So you are wrong about that one too.

  8. If you lie, and somebody calls you a lier, I’m pretty sure that is not libel. Trump said the 2020 election was stolen, over 50 court cases said otherwise. So when trump goes around repeating “the big lie”, IMHO, that is accurate reporting. Trump is good business for lawyers, if they don’t loose their license to practice as a result of taking his cases.

  9. This one is fascinating to me, Turley. And I agree with your sentiment that Trump won’t be able to sustain it.

    If this rode all the way through what would really be exposed is the mutually beneficial, though often unacknowledged relationship between trump and the press. The networks created trump. I’m still convinced NBC had a mandate to put him on Morning Joe every morning because they thought it would boost ratings for The Apprentice, which was flagging in its ratings at the time. They didn’t think he’d actually win in ’16…

    Then, like every media outlet, they found trump sold copy…, for whatever reason. Sales boomed. Ratings took off, and the master of defamation himself — trump — perfected his control of the one day news cycle. At some point in a CNN trial this reality would get massively exposed.

    Good times!!

  10. This has nothing to do with win or lose on the merits. This provides Trump’s lawyers an opportunity to put a great number of individuals on the stand. For example, one of CNN’s sources was former CIA Director John Brennan… Imagine how interesting it would be to have him in discovery for his comments about President Trump.
    Trump may not win this one with a ruling from the bench, but the odds if winning this one in the public’s eye are very high.

    1. Discovery is limited to questions that are relevant to the claim. You think it will be interesting to ask Brennan about why he thinks Trump is like Hitler?

  11. Trump’s call to “Drain the Swamp” united the public sector bureaucrats, the media elites and various denizens of public handouts in a jihad to thwart this threat. And while they succeeded, they also exposed themselves and showed the productive sector of the country just how large and rapacious the swamp was.

  12. Lawyer Ken White is much more succinct: “The reason this case is frivolous, bad faith, and performative is that it explicitly attacks political opinion as if it were false statement of fact. It attacks the absolute core of the First Amendment. … Only a provably false statement of fact can be defamatory. “[Politician] is like Hitler” is the quintessential example of opinion, rhetoric, and hyperbole that can’t be defamatory because it’s on its face not a provable statement of fact. The message of this lawsuit is “we will sue you if we don’t like your rhetoric, regardless of law.” It’s absolutely lawless, without anything resembling a good faith basis supporting it. It’s immoral, unethical, and should mark its authors with a permanent brand of contempt.”

    1. There is nothing wrong with posting another opinion, but it didn’t change what Turley said. The only reason you wrote, “Lawyer Ken White is much more succinct:” was that you have a mean streak and you like to slime Turley.

      Bad form and places all your comments in a bad light because it is not truth you are searching for rather ways to diss others.

  13. ALL OF THIS,including the NY AG charges, is political theatre and while D24 is correct in the wasting of tax dollars, what does D24 think of the NY AG spurilous charges against the entire Trump family when crime is rampant in NYC or that utter waste of The People’s monies impeaching Trump, or the FBI nonsense about that dossier cooked up by hillary? Not a peep eh? Oh so much hypocrisy from the prog/left that we are virtually drowning in it.

  14. There’s a difference though, between one article, and a daily, unrelenting barrage of attacks which has gone on for years, and which include thinly veiled ethnic attacks (i.e., Trump’s German parentage and the continuous references to Hitler and Nazis.) Anyone who contends that CNN doesn’t have actual malice towards Trump is not being honest.

  15. He pays no taxes (“my returns will be released in two weeks”) yet continues predictably to clog courts with his whining, attention-seeking lawsuits: themselves at taxpayer expense.

    He’s a small-handed fart who isn’t qualified to sell cheese-filled pizza crust, let alone warp the historical trajectory of the United States.

      1. He should have kept his salary and refused payments to his personal properties. It would have been more ethical and also cheaper for the government.

        1. Personal property that earns money for the owner is rightfully deserved. Money derived through government largess or pay to play schemes such as The Biden Crime Syndicate are not rightfully deserved. That type of monetary gain should be discouraged by putting that type of person in prison.

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