Trump Campaign Sues Over Manipulated Ad from Pro-Biden PAC

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally ahead of Super Tuesday in Charlotte / Getty Images
April 13, 2020

President Donald Trump's campaign is suing a Wisconsin television station for airing a political ad from the Democratic Party's largest super PAC that manipulated the president's words in a misleading manner.

The Trump campaign filed suit Monday against WJFW-NBC in Wisconsin, arguing that it continued airing a deceptive ad—which splices together public statements from the president to make it sound as if he called the coronavirus a "hoax"—after being informed the ad was misleading. The campaign views the station as liable for running defamatory information after it had proven that the ad mischaracterized the president's statements.

The Trump campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to the station on March 25, arguing that the ad produced by pro-Biden super PAC Priorities USA contains "intentionally false and defamatory statements about President Trump." Priorities USA used disparate clips of the president at a February rally to make it sound as though Trump said, "The coronavirus, this is their new hoax." Trump did not call the coronavirus itself a hoax, but was referring to Democrats' criticism of his response to the pandemic.

"One of my people came up to me and said, 'Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.' That didn’t work out too well," Trump said at the rally. "They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was not a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They'd been doing it since you got in. It's all turning. They lost. It's all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax."

The claim that Trump has called coronavirus a "hoax" has been fact-checked and proven false by numerous publications.

"It is disappointing that WJFW-NBC would knowingly continue to broadcast this blatantly false ad and perpetrate falsehoods on the American people, even after the Trump campaign provided proof in good faith of the ad's falsity," Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., said in a statement. "We fully expected the station would recognize their error and immediately cease under their FCC obligations. The Trump campaign is now left with no other option than to use the force of law to ensure these false and defamatory ads cease."

Priorities USA, the biggest outside group supporting Biden's candidacy, has been at the forefront of Democratic attempts to criticize Trump's response to the pandemic. In recent weeks, liberal groups have combined to spend more than $20 million on such efforts.

Priorities has spent at least $7.5 million on the ads, which are primarily targeted at the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The PAC has been fueled by $8 million from Donald Sussman and $5 million from George Soros. The group plans to spend at least $150 million on the 2020 elections.

Priorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the litigation.