Complaint seeks $4 million in damages plus punitive damages and costs.
On Monday, Republican consultant Cheri Jacobus filed a defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump, his presidential campaign, and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
Jacobus is a veteran political operative with decades of experience in the political consulting world, including a stint as a media spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. She has been a repeated guest on cable news shows; the complaint states she has had “over one thousand appearances on Fox News/FOX Business News, and hundreds of appearances on CNN and MSNBC,” among other television appearances and published articles.
The dispute started after Jacobus criticized the Trump campaign in January and February.
The campaign responded by claiming she was a disgruntled job-seeker who had “begged” for a job. As reported by Politico:
The complaint stems from comments Lewandowski and Trump made in late January and early February following Jacobus’ January 26 assertion on CNN that Trump, in interviews and debates, “comes off like a third grader faking his way through an oral report on current affairs.”
The next day, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Lewandowski said that Jacobus “came to the office on multiple occasion trying to get a job from the Trump campaign, and she wasn’t hired clearly she went off and was upset by that.”
Following a February 2 CNN appearance in which Jacobus criticized Trump’s claim that he does not get enough credit for self-funding his campaign, the businessman tweeted “@cherijacobus begged us for a job. We said no and she went hostile. A real dummy!”
According to Jacobus’ complaint, her attorney sent a cease and desist letter to Trump on February 3, 2016.
Politico reported on that letter on February 4th, including contacting Lewandowski and another Trump spokesperson, negating any plausible deniability that the campaign was not aware of the letter. On February 5th, Trump tweeted another attack on Jacobus:
The complaint and the February 4th Politico article list multiple public comments by Jacobus that include both criticisms and defenses of Trump. She called him a “bad debater” on CNN in January but also defended him last summer against accusations of racism. By including examples like this, Jacobus’ attorneys are presumably trying to show that she was not unduly hostile to Trump, but simply providing commentary. As the complaint says:
The brief and ill-fated recruitment of Jacobus by the Trump campaign had no influence whatsoever; she maintained no grudge toward Trump and harbored no hostility toward him. Rather, during this period Jacobus was professional and even-handed in her commentary on Trump, “calling it as she saw it,” defending his policies and statements in some instances, and criticizing them in others, as she did with other Republican canddiates.
The lawsuit states causes of action against Trump and Lewandowski individually, and against the Trump campaign, for libel per se for the “false and defamatory statements,” and seeks damages in the amount of $4 million, plus punitive damages and court costs.
Definition of defamation
Defamation is the communication of a false statement of fact that harms someone’s reputation. Some jurisdictions will define defamation in a written form as “libel” and spoken defamation as “slander,” but the legal issues presented are virtually the same. Jacobus will need to prove that the defamatory statements were made, that the statements were false, that they damaged her, and that there isn’t any applicable defense.
Proving the statements were made is an easy task here because they were publicly posted on Twitter or said on television news programs. In fact, the public nature of the comments and the large audience they received helps support Jacobus’ case; it’s easier to prove that a defamatory statement that was widely disseminated caused damage than one that received little attention.
Regarding the truth of the statements, Jacobus’ complaint quotes emails with Lewandowski and Facebook chats with another Trump adviser, Jim Dornan, that support her side of the story.
As far as damages go, she claims that the defamatory attacks had a “devastating impact on Jacobus’ media appearances,” including cancelled bookings, and “requests for new bookings all but dried up.” The complaint also describes an “avalanche of vicious ridicule and scorn” directed at Jacobus by Trump supporters online, including insults, sexual threats, and disturbing pornographic and false photoshopped images of her.
Statement to Legal Insurrection from Jacobus’ attorneys
Defamation lawsuits can be difficult to win, often due to issues of proof, the ability of defendants to characterize allegedly defamatory attacks as opinion or petty insults, challenges showing actual damages, and the broad protections for free speech protected by the First Amendment.
In this case, however, Jacobus’ attorneys are confident, citing the “indisputable” and “well known and documented” facts in the case. In a statement emailed to Legal Insurrection, attorney Jay R. Butterman wrote:
The facts of this matter are detailed in the complaint filed today with the New York Supreme Court. These same facts have been the subject of extensive scrutiny by the press, and are well known and documented. While libel suits are generally difficult to prove, in this matter it is indisputable that the statements of Trump and his agents which are the subject of this lawsuit are defamatory. Donald Trump far exceeded the legitimate bounds of free expression in his false attacks on Ms. Jacobus. He should be held accountable for his actions. We have no doubt that the defendants will hurl a host of technical objections at this filing, but we are confident that the complaint has already addressed the technical hurdles often confronting the victims of defamation.
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