Federal Judge Gives Trump Opportunity to Amend Complaint Against CNN

The CNN logo stands outside the venue of the second Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates debate, in the Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A federal judge in Atlanta is giving President Donald Trump’s lawyers the opportunity to submit an amended complaint in its libel lawsuit against CNN.

Filed in March 2020, the President’s lawsuit alleged that CNN columnist Larry Noble had defamed him in a June 2019 opinion piece when he wrote that “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.”

See previous story: President Trump Files Third Defamation Lawsuit, Targets CNN

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, CNN argued, first, that the statement could not be grounds for defamation because the statement was an opinion which cannot be proven true or false; and, second, Trump’s lawyers had failed to provide evidence that the author had knowingly published false information. 

U.S. District Judge Michael Brown, a Trump appointee, rejected the first argument, writing that Nobel’s statement had a “precise meaning” and could be proven true or untrue.

“[W]hether Plaintiff conducted an assessment of the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia’s help in 2020 and whether it left that option ‘on the table,’” Brown wrote. “The Statement is also capable of being proven true or false. Either Plaintiff conducted an assessment regarding ‘the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia’s help in 2020’ or it did not.”

However, Brown agreed with CNN’s third argument, writing that Trump had failed to demonstrate that the statement had been made with actual malice, or intentional misrepresentation of the truth. The only piece of evidence Trump provided was an old tweet in which Noble had said Trump “cheats and lies” and “claims defeats as victories.” 

“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,” the judge wrote. 

As of November 13th, neither CNN nor Trump’s legal team have responded to the ruling. Trump’s lawyers have until November 30th to submit the amended complaint.