President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE’s reelection campaign on Monday filed a defamation lawsuit against a Wisconsin television station for running an ad cut by the liberal super PAC Priorities USA alleging the president called the coronavirus a “hoax.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and legal fees from the NBC affiliate, WJFW-NBC of Rhinelander, accusing the station of having “perpetrated a fraud on the public by recklessly broadcasting [Priorities USA’s] defamatory and false advertisement, which WJFW-NBC knew or should have known was produced through the use of technology that depicted a clearly false statement.”
“It is disappointing that WJFW-NBC would knowingly continue to broadcast this blatantly false ad and perpetrate falsehoods on the American people, even after the Trump campaign provided proof in good faith of the ad’s falsity,” Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement.
“We fully expected the station would recognize their error and immediately cease under their [Federal Communications Commission] obligations. The Trump campaign is now left with no other option than to use the force of law to ensure these false and defamatory ads cease," she added. "Defamation law helps ensure that news outlets are accountable to viewers, who should be able trust the accuracy and truth of content aired to the public.”
The local news station did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Trump campaign sent cease-and-desist letters to WJFW and other TV stations in key battleground states last month warning they would face legal action for running the Priorities USA ad.
Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, which is backing presumptive nominee former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE, has put nearly $7 million behind the ad, which is running in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The ad splices together audio clips of Trump downplaying the virus over a graphic showing the number of cases on the rise.
"The coronavirus, this is their new hoax,” Trump says in the ad. “We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear. When you have 15 people and within a couple of days is gonna be down to close to zero. We really think we've done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand. No, I don't take responsibility."
Fact-checkers have said it’s wrong to claim that Trump called the virus a hoax, noting that the president’s full quote shows he was describing Democratic efforts to politicize the virus.
“Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it,” Trump said in February. “We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ ‘Oh, nothing, nothing.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. ... And this is their new hoax. But you know we did something that’s been pretty amazing.”
Priorities USA is standing by its ad, arguing Trump was using the word “hoax” to downplay the virus and shift the blame for the outbreak away from his administration.
"Our ad uses a series of Trump's own words to show that he downplayed the threat of the pandemic even as the infection spread," Josh Schwerin, a strategist for Priorities USA, told The Hill earlier this month.
"We stand by the facts in the ad, and every TV station has agreed that the Trump campaign's complaints fall flat. Holding our elected officials accountable is critical when they are falling down on the job, and we will continue to do that," he added.
—Updated at 1:15 p.m.