The Trump campaign filed a defamation lawsuit against a pro-Democrat super PAC over an advert that featured a “manufactured statement” that claimed President Donald Trump called the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus a “hoax.”
The lawsuit, filed June 18 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (pdf), says that Priorities USA Action (PUSA) produced an advert featuring a “false and defamatory statement” that harmed the reputation of the Trump campaign.
“President Trump never referred to the virus itself as a hoax,” the Trump campaign said in a statement.
PUSA is identified in the court filing as an intervenor defendant. The Trump campaign previously filed a defamation lawsuit in April against NBC affiliate Northland Television (WJFW-NBC), the defendant in the suit. The TV station was among various media outlets that broadcast the advertisement, the Trump campaign stated in its latest complaint.
The complaint says that the advertisement, titled “Exponential Threat,” as well as another “substantially similar” advertisement, titled “One Week Later,” were produced through piecing together different audio clips from Trump campaign events to manufacture a “blatantly false statement that was never said by candidate Trump: ‘The coronavirus, this is their new hoax.'”
“The PUSA ads knowingly and intentionally misattributed the Manufactured Statement to candidate Trump—a statement that PUSA knew that candidate Trump never said,” the complaint continues.
The Trump campaign demands a trial by jury over its allegations and seeks judgment against PUSA, as well as damages “in an amount to be determined at trial,” and legal fees.
South Carolina Rally Comments
The complaint noted that, “Defendants assert that the Manufactured Statement was made by candidate Trump at a campaign rally for the Trump campaign in Charleston, South Carolina.”
At the rally on Feb. 28 Trump said: “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that, right? Coronavirus, they’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They go, ‘Oh, not good, not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa. They can’t even count. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes.
“One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was not a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’ve been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning.’ Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax,” he added.
The audio referred to in the complaint appears to have spliced disparate parts of Trump’s remarks from that rally.
On Feb. 29, the day after the rally, Trump explained his remarks in a press conference.
“I’m not talking about what’s happening here; I’m talking what they’re doing,” he said, referring to Democrats. “That’s the hoax.”
The Trump campaign said in its complaint that PUSA created the ads “to affect voting behavior of members of the voting public and influence the 2020 presidential election as defeating candidate Trump is a core tenet of its mission,” citing a page on the PUSA website for its assertion.
Cease and Desist Letters
The Trump campaign on March 25 sent WJFW-NBC a cease and desist letter after which the Wisconsin TV station allegedly aired the ad 36 more times over 11 days, according to the previous lawsuit the Trump campaign filed over the advertisement.
In the latest suit, the Trump campaign alleged that PUSA obtained a copy of the cease and desist letters sent to various TV stations over the ads, but disregarded the issue and also “doubled down and expanded the distribution of the PUSA ads for broadcast more frequently and on more TV stations.”
“Further, through its counsel, PUSA sent TV stations broadcasting the PUSA ads throughout the country a letter in response to the Trump campaign’s cease and desist letters,” the complaint added. “Upon information and belief, PUSA widely distributed its letter response to TV stations broadcasting the PUSA ads.”
The Trump campaign said in the complaint that TV stations, including the defendant WJFW-NBC, subsequently continued to accept PUSA’s purchase of advertising air time to broadcast the advertisements, apparently relying on the assertions in PUSA’s response letter that the “manufactured statement” was true.
“The Trump campaign is using the force of law to end circulation of these erroneous and defamatory ads. The American people should be able to trust in the accuracy of the content aired, especially in reference to their president, and these lawsuits will help ensure that both the sponsors of this ad and those circulating it are held accountable for their malicious actions,” Jenna Ellis, Senior Legal Adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement.
Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.