Good Lord, he really did it! After an entire year of threats, Trump has actually filed a defamation suit against the Pulitzer Prize Board for refusing to revoke the 2018 award to the New York Times and Washington Post for their coverage of Russian election interference and the Mueller investigation.
Well … sort of. See, the statute of limitations for defamation has long since run. But after all his screeching about it, the Board put out a statement in July stating that it had conducted “two independent reviews,” both of which concluded “that no passages or headlines, contentions or assertions in any of the winning submissions were discredited by facts that emerged subsequent to the conferral of the prizes.”
And that is the alleged defamatory statement at issue in this case. Yes, really!
Now before you go down the rabbit hole, pointing out that this in no wise constitutes defamation, let’s talk about jurisdiction and venue, because … hooboy!
“Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to § 47.011, Fla. Stat, as the cause of action accrued in Okeechobee County, Florida,” Trump’s lawyers assert gamely.
Trump himself lives in Palm Beach County, while the Pulitzer Board is run out of Columbia University in New York. And while one of the Board members, whom Trump sued in their personal capacities, actually resides in Pinellas County, Florida, exactly no one in this case has any relationship to Okeechobee County. Nevertheless, the plaintiff insists that the “defamatory statement” was both a response to him and a malicious attempt to destroy his business relationships in Florida, and was thus directed at the state.
“The defamatory publication was accessed by third parties in Okeechobee County, Florida,” the complaint insists airily, “such that Defendants ‘published’ the defamatory material in Florida for purposes of the Florida long-arm statute.”
As for jurisdiction, well, “Defendants also have sufficient contacts in Florida to satisfy the broader personal jurisdiction questions of due process, minimum contacts, and traditional notices of fair play and substantial justice.”
Done and done!
Let’s take a wildass guess as to why Trump’s attorneys, a boutique firm in Fort Pierce, were so hot to file this suit in Okeechobee. Because a month ago, they sued New York Attorney General Letitia James in Palm Beach County to stop her petitioning a New York State court to force Trump to hand over his revocable trust documents. (Yes, for real, again.) And when that case was immediately removed to federal court on diversity grounds, it wound up on Judge Donald Middlebrooks’s docket.
Judge Middlebrooks is in the middle of sanctioning the hell out of Trump’s lawyers for filing that insane RICO LOLsuit against Hillary Clinton, Jim Comey, and half of DC. So, if we were a bettin’ man, we’d wager that Trump’s lawyers were hoping to wind up before Judge Aileen Cannon, who sits in nearby Fort Pierce, if and when this case gets removed to federal court. Because Judge Cannon has already proven herself amenable to any batshit crazy motion Trump cares to file.
And this filing is truly BATSHIT CRAZY, with page after page of inchoate ranting about the “Russia Collusion Hoax,” supposedly cooked up by Hillary Clinton “to create the false impression of links between President Trump, his presidential campaign, and the Russian government.” Naturally the FBI was delighted to help, launching the “seemingly authentic, but in reality corrupt, investigation known as ‘Crossfire Hurricane.’” Also the media was in on it, “eschewing common sense along with traditional journalistic principles like verification, attribution, and independence, to advance the Russia Collusion Hoax and damage President Trump.”
The American public was irrefutably lied to by the Times and the Post. The lies were so maliciously fabricated to the point that many actually believed the disgustingly fake narrative that President Trump was a Russian asset. Others remained unpersuaded, naturally suspicious that the “Deep State” elements within the media and government establishments would do anything possible to prevent a peaceful transition of power to President Trump, who had vowed to “drain the swamp” once elected.
Trump never sued the Times or the Post for this supposed defamation, and indeed he’s not pointing to any statement in the stories by the Times and the Post which won them the award. Instead he points to factually true passages which “were framed by both the Times and the Post so readers would conclude they were evidence of an attempted cover-up.”
For example, in July 2017, both the Times and the Post reported a non-story about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a “Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer” who apparently lured the President’s son to a meeting by offering derogatory information about Hillary Clinton. This lawyer later used the meeting to unsuccessfully lobby against the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on foreign officials who violate human rights.
The complaint goes on to cite accurate reports of statements and conclusions reached by third parties, such as a letter from then-Senator Harry Reid to James Comey, and treat them as defamation by the papers themselves.
But how does this relate to the Pulitzer Board?
Defendants, with knowledge or reckless disregard for its falsity, published the Pulitzer Statement, including the passage stating “independent reviews” had “converged on their conclusions” that the Awarded Articles had not been discredited by “facts that emerged subsequent to the conferral” of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, such that the reader is left with the intended false implication that the Awarded Articles had been objectively, thoroughly, and independently reviewed for veracity twice, and that the separate conclusions had each accredited the accuracy on the Awarded Articles.
On the facts known to Defendants at the time these reviews were allegedly conducted, it would have been impossible that a single objective, thorough, and independent review would have reached such a conclusion, much less two. Defendants knew this and published the Pulitzer Statement anyway.
That’s … not how any of this goes. But that hasn’t stopped Trump’s lawyers or Judge Cannon before. So, it remains to be seen if the defendants simply hire local counsel and fight it out in Okeechobee County, or if they roll the dice and remove to federal court, where they risk winding up before that weirdo in Fort Pierce.
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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