In the lawsuit filed Monday, Trump’s attorneys claim CNN “has sought to use its massive influence — purportedly as a ‘trusted’ news source — to defame the Plaintiff in the minds of its viewers and readers for the purpose of defeating him politically, culminating in CNN claiming credit for ‘[getting] Trump out’ in the 2020 presidential election.”
The former president is seeking $475 million in punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.
Trump announced his intent to sue the network earlier this summer, saying in a statement he would “also be commencing actions against other media outlets who have defamed me and defrauded the public regarding the overwhelming evidence of fraud throughout the 2020 Election.”
The former president’s attorneys allege in the filing that CNN “has undertaken a smear campaign to malign the Plaintiff with a barrage of negative associations and innuendos, broadcasting commentary that he is like a cult leader, a Russian lackey, a dog whistler to white supremacists, and a racist.”
It also cited anchors, personalities and pundits on CNN using the term “Big Lie” to refer to Trump’s repeated false statements about the 2020 election and voter fraud as evidence of the outlet attempting to associate him with Adolf Hitler.
In order to prove defamation, public officials and other public figures must prove journalists acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth in their reporting, a high legal bar to clear given First Amendment protections granted to the free press under the Constitution. The New York Times, for example, has not lost a defamation case in more than 50 years.
CNN is a frequent foil of Trump, his followers and allies, as well as conservatives more generally.
In 2020, the network settled a $275 million lawsuit brought by a high school student in Kentucky who was at the center of a viral video controversy and became a lightning rod for critics of the mainstream media.
Trump’s campaign also sued the New York Times in 2019 over an op-ed suggesting a “quid pro quo” with Russian officials.
The latest lawsuit from the former president comes amid big changes at CNN, which was recently sold to media conglomerate Discovery.
CNN’s new president, Chris Licht, has made several changes to the network’s programming and personnel, scrapping its Sunday show focused on media affairs and telling staff at the network he would like to see a renewed commitment to journalism over punditry and speculation.
Licht reportedly told network anchors in a meeting earlier this year that they should rein in the use of the phrase “the big lie” when referring to Trump’s election claims, worrying it was too partisan.
The network declined to comment on Trump’s lawsuit Monday.