Trump campaign agrees to drop its defamation lawsuit against a tiny Wisconsin TV station

MADISON – With the election over, President Donald Trump’s campaign is giving up on its defamation lawsuit against a tiny TV station in northern Wisconsin for an ad it ran by a liberal group. 

The campaign agreed to drop the case Friday in a court filing it made in conjunction with Rhinelander’s WFJW-TV and Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC that created the ad at the heart of the case. 

The Trump campaign brought its legal firepower this spring against the NBC affiliate in Wisconsin’s Northwoods around the same time it was also suing the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN. 

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In the Wisconsin lawsuit, the Trump campaign started by going after the TV station for running the ad, rather than Priorities USA for making it. Priorities USA later intervened in the case. 

U.S. District Judge William Conley never ruled on the merits of the case, and on Friday all sides told him they wanted the case dismissed. The filing came less than two weeks after the Republican president lost the election to Democrat Joe Biden. 

The ad showed Trump appearing to say, “The coronavirus, this is their new hoax.”

The two parts of the sentences were stitched together from comments he made at a rally in South Carolina in February. 

In the speech, Trump contended Democrats were politicizing the coronavirus and compared their focus on the pandemic to their earlier focuses on Russia and impeachment. “And this is their new hoax,” Trump said.

FactCheck.org called the use of the “new hoax” clip deceptive and PolitiFact dubbed a similar video false because of how it was edited. 

But attorneys for the television station noted Trump was the one who inserted the term “hoax” into the political debate and said it was up to voters to decide what to make of Trump’s comments. 

Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, claimed victory after the Trump campaign agreed to withdraw the lawsuit.

“Priorities stood strong against the Trump campaign’s onslaught of baseless legal actions and we have successfully rebuffed Donald Trump’s effort to censor the truth about his failed leadership,” Cecil said in a statement.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.