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Defamation ruling adds to Donald Trump’s mountain of legal woes

The decision in favour of the <i>N.Y. Times</i> adds to Donald Trump's legal woes.

The decision in favour of the N.Y. Times adds to Donald Trump's legal woes. Photo: Getty

Donald Trump has been ordered to pay legal fees to The New York Times and three investigative reporters after he sued them unsuccessfully over a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2018 story about his family’s wealth and tax practices.

The newspaper and reporters Susanne Craig, David Barstow and Russell Buettner were dismissed from the lawsuit in May.

Trump’s claim against his estranged niece, Mary Trump, that she breached a prior settlement agreement by giving tax records to the reporters is still pending.

New York Judge Robert Reed on Friday said that given the “complexity of the issues” in the case and other factors, it was reasonable that Donald Trump be forced to pay lawyers for the Times and the reporters a total of $A587,000 in legal fees.

“Today’s decision shows that the state’s newly amended anti-SLAPP statute can be a powerful force for protecting press freedom,” Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoads Ha said, referring to a New York law that bars baseless lawsuits designed to silence critics. Such lawsuits are known as SLAPPs or “strategic lawsuits against public participation”.

“The court has sent a message to those who want to misuse the judicial system to try to silence journalists,” reporter Rhoads Ha said.

In a separate ruling on Friday, Reed denied a request by Mary Trump – now the sole defendant – that the case be put on hold while she appeals his June decision that allowed Donald Trump’s claim against her to proceed.

Donald Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, said the leading Republican presidential candidate is disappointed that the Times and its reporters were dropped from the case.

Family feud continues

She said her client is pleased that the court has “once again affirmed the strength of our claims against Mary and is denying her attempt to avoid accountability”.

“We look forward to proceeding with our claims against her,” Habba said.

Donald Trump’s lawsuit, filed in 2021, accused the Times and its reporters of relentlessly seeking out Mary Trump as a source of information and convincing her to turn over confidential tax records.

He claimed the reporters were aware her prior settlement agreement barred her from disclosing the documents, which she’d received in a dispute over family patriarch Fred Trump’s estate.

The Times‘ reporting challenged Donald Trump’s claims of self-made wealth by documenting how his father, Fred Trump, had given him at

Uncle Donald can continue going after estranged niece Mary Trump. Photo: Getty

least $US413 million ($A618 million) over the decades, including through tax avoidance schemes.

Mary Trump identified herself in a book published in 2020 as the source of the documents.

The Times‘ story said that Donald Trump and his father avoided gift and inheritance taxes by methods including setting up a sham corporation and undervaluing assets to tax authorities. The Times says its report was based on more than 100,000 pages of financial documents, including confidential tax returns for the father and his companies.

Donald Trump, who sought $US100 million ($A150 million) in damages, alleged Mary Trump, the Times and the reporters “were motivated by a personal vendetta” against him. He accused them of engaging “in an insidious plot to obtain confidential and highly sensitive records which they exploited for their own benefit”.

In dismissing the Times and its reporters from the lawsuit, Reed wrote that legal news gathering is “at the very core of protected First Amendment activity”.

Mary Trump, 58, is the daughter of Donald Trump’s brother, Fred Trump Jr., who died in 1981 aged 42. She is an outspoken critic of her uncle, whom she has called “criminal, cruel and traitorous”.

In July, Mary Trump filed a counterclaim against Donald Trump under New York’s anti-SLAPP law, arguing Donald Trump’s lawsuit was “purely retaliatory and lacking in merit” and intended to “chill her and others from criticising him in the future”.

-AAP

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