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The real story behind Trump’s new lawsuit against the New York Times

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Wednesday was an ominous day for freedom of the press in this country, and I want to tell you why.

You may have heard or seen that President Trump filed a libel suit against the New York Times. Perhaps you weren’t surprised: the president is known to frequently disparage the Times even as he reads it obsessively. Borrowing a page from what I’ve referred to before as a Mount Rushmore of totalitarians, Robespierre, Hitler, Stalin and Mao, Trump loves to call the press the “enemy of the people.”

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But Wednesday’s suit is an important step beyond bluster to try to silence the press using the legal system — and just days after the president announced that he considers himself the country’s “chief law enforcement officer.”

This new lawsuit is a joke under our current constitutional law of libel. It complains of an opinion piece written by a former executive editor of the Times, Max Frankel. Frankel, 89, a great journalist (and, admittedly, a friend of mine for more than 40 years), won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and ran the Times opinion pages from 1977-86 and its news pages from 1986-94. His op-ed last March reflected his belief that Trump and Vladimir Putin of Russia were engaged in a symbiotic relationship, with Putin helping Trump gain power in this country while Trump sought to soften U.S. policy toward Russia.

Both of these elements — Putin’s help to Trump and Trump’s history of going easy on Putin — are established facts, with Trump’s own government reminding us again this month that Putin’s work continues, and numerous reports making clear that Trump has worked to placate Russia, even if others in his administration sometimes stymie this impulse. Whether, as Frankel argued, this suggests an implicit quid pro quo is the sort of opinion that belongs on, well, on the opinion pages, where it ran.

And the Supreme Court has declared that opinion is constitutionally protected. So this case should be readily dismissed. And Trump must know it, because just three years ago he got a libel suit against him dismissed in the very same court in which he sued the Times on Wednesday on the grounds that what he had said about a critic was protected opinion.

But the president sued anyway. He sued even though he had never complained about the story after it was published. He sued almost a year after the article was published, just ahead of the statute of limitations expiring. On Wednesday, in a news briefing where he attempted to minimize the seriousness of the looming pandemic, he said “there will be more coming.”

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And that is the point. What is happening here is a cynical play to establish a talking point. Now, whenever the nation’s leading newspaper reveals some new abuse of power or malfeasance in office, Trump can point out he is suing the Times. Perhaps, he may hope, the Times news pages will even pull a punch or two to avoid being seen as a presidential adversary. (I hope, and trust, they will not. I hope Max Frankel’s successors will instruct their staffs that no one is to mention or even think of this silly lawsuit in considering other coverage of Trump.)

This is not Donald Trump’s first libel suit, or the first such suit he has brought frivolously. Trump has been saying for nearly five years now that he wants to “open up the libel laws.” Some of us listened to Trump during the 2016 campaign and saw the threat he posed of reinstituting the law of seditious libel, the crime of challenging the government, long since eradicated from American law. That threat took a new turn on Wednesday. This is an issue, amid all the craziness of the hour, that merits your attention, not least because “there will be more.”

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DC cop explains why it was so important for him to kneel with protesters

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Officer Carlton Wilhoit scrolled through social media posts before he went to work on Sunday reading many anti-police statements.

As the Washington Post describes it, he suited up and went to work as protesters continued to surround the White House. He, along with his colleagues, were standing in the middle of 16th Street with a crowd of about 60 protesters implored him, "kneel for us." He said he knew he had to.

https://twitter.com/simonmadowa/status/1267448881169731587

“For me, kneeling was the right thing to do,” the young officer told the Post. “At the end of the day, I’m black first. If I were to lose my job today or tomorrow, or if I were to choose a different career path, one thing that would still remain when I take this uniform off is I’m a black man.”

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WATCH: Armed federal officers swarm clergy as they hold vigil for George Floyd

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On Wednesday, clergy with the Episcopal Diocese of Washington held a vigil for George Floyd — only to be surrounded by armed federal officers from a number of different agencies.

Images and video were captured by WTOP's Alejandro Alvarez.

Watch below:

You can’t get anywhere near Lafayette Park today since police expanded their perimeter. There are national guard and what look like federal corrections officers blocking 16th street, but about half these guys don’t have visible insignia or badges. pic.twitter.com/U1KtRnSpVj

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‘There is great distrust of the entire system’: CNN reporter says protesters want the Hennepin attorney to resign

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On CNN Wednesday, correspondent Miguel Marquez reported that while Minnesota civil rights activists will approve of the upgraded charges against the police officers involved in the death of George Floyd, they also want accountability for Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney who initially declined to charge every officer.

"Those protesters will be pleased, absolutely happy to hear these charges have now been brought, but they will want more," said Marquez. "Specifically, they do want the County Attorney, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, who initially had this case and then turned it over to the attorney general, they want him to resign. They're also upset with the governor and his handling of it."

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