Trump Adds PAC To Claims Over 'Manufactured' Quote

By Christopher Cole
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Law360 (June 19, 2020, 6:30 PM EDT) -- President Donald Trump's campaign has added a progressive political action committee as another target of a defamation suit already leveled against an NBC affiliate in Wisconsin because the PAC produced and sponsored an ad that featured allegedly manipulated clips of Trump claiming the coronavirus was "a hoax."

Trump's reelection arm says Priorities USA Action belongs in the suit, which did not name the PAC when originally filed. The progressive organization — a major backer of candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and now Joe Biden — asked to join the case as an intervenor defendant May 12.

Donald J. Trump for President Inc. sued Northland Television LLC, which does business as WJFW-NBC, two months ago, saying it should not have broadcast Priorities USA's ad, which the campaign says it knew or should have known used digital technology to "manufacture" a "blatantly false statement that was never said by" Trump.

In the latest pleadings, Trump's campaign accused Priorities USA, which it called a "far-left super PAC," of sponsoring "a false and defamatory statement" in a television ad that has been distributed via social media and broadcast through various media outlets, including television stations such as WJFW.

"The PUSA ads were produced through the use of digital technology by taking audio clips from Trump campaign events and piecing those clips together to manufacture a blatantly false statement that was never said by candidate Trump: 'The coronavirus, this is their new hoax,'" according to the latest version of the suit.

"By including the manufactured statement as the opening line of the PUSA ads, which were widely broadcast on television stations and through other means throughout the country during a hotly contested campaign year and amidst a public health crisis, PUSA misled the public by representing that candidate Trump made a statement he never in fact made," the suit claims.

The Trump campaign had said on June 11 it had no objection to PUSA joining the action as an intervenor and indicated it would file a new pleading to also assert claims against the group.

The campaign is suing the station with a common law defamation claim and seeks unspecified damages.

According to the new filing, the PAC's "knowing and intentional distribution of fabricated statements ... constitutes actual malice, knowledge of or reckless disregard for the falsity of the statements."

Northland is just the latest media company to face a suit from the campaign. In March, the campaign hit CNN with a libel suit in Georgia federal court, claiming that an article on the media giant's website falsely alleged that the campaign considered seeking Russia's help in the 2020 election.

The campaign filed has also sued The Washington Post for libel.

In February, it sued The New York Times in New York state court, claiming an opinion piece from last year that accused Trump's 2016 campaign of striking "an overarching deal" with Russia amounts to "intentional false reporting."

Priorities USA and its counsel did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Counsel for WJFW did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Trump campaign is represented by Eric M. McLeod, Lane E. Ruhland and Lisa M. Lawless of Husch Blackwell LLP.

WJFW is represented by Charles D. Tobin, Al-Amyn Sumar and Ashley I. Kissinger of Ballard Spahr LLP and Brady C. Williamson and Mike B. Wittenwyler of Godfrey & Kahn SC.

Priorities USA is represented by David L. Anstaett, Brandon M. Lewis, Sopen B. Shah, Marc E. Elias and Gillian Kuhlmann of Perkins Coie LLP.

The suit is Donald J. Trump for President Inc. v. Northland Television LLC et al., case number 3:20-cv-00385, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

--Additional reporting by Julia Arciga, Nadia Dreid and Dave Simpson. Editing by Gemma Horowitz.

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