Judge dismisses Trump lawsuit against The New York Times

A judge in New York dismissed former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit against The New York Times and three of the paper’s reporters on Wednesday over a 2018 article that alleged Trump engaged in “suspect tax schemes.” The three authors of the article — David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner — later won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for the piece.

New York Supreme Court Justice Robert Reed dismissed Trump’s lawsuit against the paper and its journalists, and held him financially responsible for their attorneys fees and additional costs incurred as well, writing in his opinion that Mr. Trump’s claims “fail as a matter of constitutional law.”

“Courts have long recognized that reporters are entitled to engage in legal and ordinary newsgathering activities without fear of tort liability — as these actions are at the very core of protected First Amendment activity,” continued Reed.

Donald Trump suspect tax schemes
A special report in the October 7, 2018 edition of The New York Times investigates suspect tax schemes used by Donald Trump and his father, Fred Trump, to avoid paying taxes.

Robert Alexander / Getty Images

Trump initially filed the suit against The Times, the three reporters and his niece, Mary Trump, in late 2021, alleging that the paper engaged in an “insidious plot” to illegally obtain copies of his confidential tax documents through Mary Trump, and subsequently exploit them. Trump’s attorneys alleged that in providing the paper with Trump’s 20-year-old tax documents, his niece had been in violation of a 1999 court ruling involving the will of Fred C. Trump, the former president’s father, reported The New York Times.

Reed asserted that Mary Trump “owned the files she disclosed to The Times, and thus there was nothing wrongful” about the paper and its reporters requesting the documents from her for journalistic use.

While Reed has tossed out the claims against The Times, Barstow, Craig and Buettner, the claims against Mary Trump have yet to be ruled upon. It is not immediately clear when a decision will be made.  

“The New York Times is pleased with the judge’s decision today,” a spokesperson for the paper said in a statement provided to CBS News. “It is an important precedent reaffirming that the press is protected when it engages in routine newsgathering to obtain information of vital importance to the public.” 

Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, said in a statement: “All journalists must be held accountable when they commit civil wrongs. The New York Times is no different and its reporters went well beyond the conventional news gathering techniques permitted by the First Amendment. In light of the Court’s decision, we will weigh our client’s options and continue to vigorously fight on his behalf.” She did not specify if they would appeal.

This is not the first time Trump has been unsuccessful in suing The New York Times. In 2020, the former president filed a libel lawsuit against the paper, claiming it inaccurately reported “as fact a conspiracy with Russia” in a 2019 opinion piece. The suit was dismissed in 2021.

–Graham Kates contributed reporting.

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