A New York State court on Tuesday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by the re-election campaign of Donald J. Trump against The New York Times Company, ruling that an opinion essay that argued there had been a “quid pro quo” between the candidate and Russian officials before the 2016 presidential election was protected speech.
The Times published the Op-Ed, written by Max Frankel, a former executive editor of The Times who was not named as a defendant in the suit, in March 2019 under the headline “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo.” Mr. Frankel made the case that in “an overarching deal” before the 2016 election, Russian officials would help Mr. Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in exchange for his taking U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Russia direction.
Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, Donald J. Trump for President Inc., filed the suit in New York State Supreme Court in February 2020, alleging defamation and accusing The Times of “extreme bias against and animosity toward” the campaign.
In his decision on Tuesday, Judge James E. d’Auguste noted three reasons for dismissal. He wrote that Mr. Frankel’s commentary was “nonactionable opinion,” meaning it was constitutionally protected speech; that the Trump campaign did not have standing to sue for defamation; and that the campaign had failed to show that The Times had published the essay with “actual malice.”
“The court made clear today a fundamental point about press freedom: We should not tolerate libel suits that are brought by people in power intending to silence and intimidate those who scrutinize them,” David McCraw, The Times’s deputy general counsel, said in a statement.
A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Times had filed a motion to dismiss the case and impose sanctions on the campaign. The judge declined to impose sanctions.
The Times was a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s attacks on the press during his four years in office. Before the suit, he accused the paper of “treason,” and he often threatened to take news organizations to court. Last year, the Trump campaign made good on the threats, filing defamation suits against The Times, CNN and The Washington Post. In November, a federal judge dismissed the suit against CNN. The Post suit is pending.
In all three actions, the Trump campaign’s lawyer was Charles J. Harder, who represented Terry G. Bollea, the former professional wrestler known as Hulk Hogan, when he sued Gawker Media in 2012 over the publication of a sex video. That suit, secretly funded by the conservative tech investor Peter Thiel, resulted in a $140 million decision that prompted Gawker Media’s bankruptcy and sale.