This hasn’t been the best month for the 45th president of the United States. On Wednesday, a Georgia federal court judge rejected a defamation lawsuit brought by Donald Trump against CNN.
Trump’s campaign filed its complaint back in March. It targeted an opinion piece from Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission who took the position that Special Counsel Robert Mueller should have charged Trump campaign officials with soliciting dirt on his opponents. The lawsuit made specific objection to a line stating 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 case was reviewed by U.S. District Court Judge Michael L. Brown, who was appointed to the federal judiciary by Trump himself. Brown considered CNN’s contention that the political op/ed couldn’t reasonably be understood as actionable false facts. While the judge disagrees with the cable newscaster about how to interpret the statement in question, finding it is indeed capable of being proven true or false, he takes note of the context of how Noble uses soft language and is signaling the expression of opinion overall.
That noted, the case comes down to Trump’s failure to plead knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth. He is, after all, a public figure, and while he has often called for libel laws to be relaxed, public figures still need to demonstrate actual malice.
“Most of the allegations in the complaint regarding actual malice are conclusory,” writes the judge, also not accepting that an alleged record of anti-Trump bias on Noble’s part is sufficient.
For example, with respect to how Noble once tweeted that Trump “cheats and lies,” Brown writes, “The tweet might show Mr. Noble’s ill will towards the President, but it fails to plead actual malice in the constitutional sense—that is, it does not show Mr. Noble made the Statement with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false.”
As such, Trump’s complaint is dismissed. While the judge gives him an opportunity to file an amended version, he hasn’t cleared the bar that will allow discovery inside CNN’s headquarters. Here’s the full opinion.