WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump's re-election campaign said on Wednesday (Feb 26) it filed a libel suit against the New York Times accusing the newspaper of intentionally publishing a false opinion article related to Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
In an escalation of the Republican president's long-running battle with the news media, campaign officials said the lawsuit was being filed in New York State Supreme Court, the state's trial-level court.
A statement from the campaign said the aim of the litigation was to "hold the news organization accountable for intentionally publishing false statements against President Trump's campaign."
The lawsuit relates to a March 27, 2019, opinion article written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of the Times from 1986 to 1994.
The campaign attached to a news release a draft copy of the suit accusing the newspaper of "extreme bias against (the campaign) and animosity" and cited what it called the Times' "exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020".
Trump is seeking re-election on Nov 3.
The Times did not have an immediate comment.
The opinion piece was headlined, "The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo" with a subhead adding, "The campaign and the Kremlin had an overarching deal: help beat Hillary Clinton for a new pro-Russian foreign policy."
Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning a favour in exchange for a favour.
The lawsuit originated with the Trump re-election campaign, but Trump himself has contended the Times has at times been biased against him.
Trump often refers to various news media outlets as "fake news" and has called elements of the US news media "the enemy of the American people."
Former special counsel Robert Mueller documented Moscow's campaign of hacking and social media propaganda to boost Trump's 2016 candidacy and harm his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
It documented numerous contacts between people associated between Trump's campaign and Russians. Mueller found insufficient evidence to show a criminal conspiracy between Trump's team and Russia but did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice related to the investigation.
In the opinion piece, Frankel stated, "Collusion - or a lack of it - turns out to have been the rhetorical trap that ensnared President Trump's pursuers."
Frankel added, "There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin's oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration's burdensome economic sanctions. The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo."
"Today, the President's re-election campaign filed suit against the New York Times for falsely stating the Campaign had an 'overarching deal' with 'Vladimir Putin's oligarchy' to 'help the campaign against Hillary Clinton' in exchange for 'a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from... economic sanctions'," said Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to Donald J. Trump for President.
"The statements were and are 100 per cent false and defamatory. The complaint alleges The Times was aware of the falsity at the time it published them, but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process," Ellis said.
In a copy of the lawsuit provided by his re-election team, the campaign stated, "The Times was well aware when it published these statements that they were not true."