RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump's reelection campaign announced yesterday that it is suing The Washington Post. They're claiming defamation in two opinion pieces published last year. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here to walk us through it. Hi, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So explain what was in those two op-ed pieces - those opinion pieces, rather, and the claims being made by the president's reelection team.
FOLKENFLIK: Right. Well, these were a pair of opinion pieces that were published last June by liberal commentators, both of them in different ways - or slightly different ways taking inspiration from an interview President Trump gave to ABC's George Stephanopoulos in which he said he, basically - yeah, you know, if a foreign government gave him help to - in the 2020 election, he'd probably consider it pretty seriously. Greg Sargent wrote that Robert Mueller, in his report - the special counsel - concluded that Trump and - or his campaign had encouraged, tried to - eagerly encouraged, tried to conspire with and happily profited off the efforts by the Russians.
A week later, Paul Waldman wrote, who knows what sort of aid Russia and North Korea will give to the Trump campaign now he's invited them to offer their assistance? The Trump campaign accused that of being false and defamatory, said there was never any invitation - the one column's talking about the 2016 race; the second column talking about what might happen in this election year.
MARTIN: And this isn't the only lawsuit, right? They took action against The New York Times last week.
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. No, these seem very much like pairs in a twin set, the efforts - the president suing the two - two of the three or two of the most important newspapers in the country and, in fact, the world.
MARTIN: So, I mean, I know you're not an expert on libel laws, but you're pretty close. So can you explain how strong is the president's case?
FOLKENFLIK: Not that strong. I've talked to a number of media lawyers. You know, they're going to argue that the newspapers didn't follow their own reporting closely enough, that the Mueller - they're - in fact, the president's lawyers are arguing that the Mueller report exonerated them. That's not precisely what the Mueller report did; it said it didn't have evidence to sustain an indictment for conspiracy.
And in fact, if you think about it, these are opinion pieces. There's a lot of latitude given under media law for people to express opinions, especially for public officials and really especially for the president of the United States, who, from the republic's founding, has expected that he or she would receive a lot of public criticism.
MARTIN: But even if the president's legal footing is shaky on these suits, I mean, it clearly still fits into his brand. He clearly believes he'll derive some political benefit from just going through the motions here.
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I think that this is much more a part of a political strategy than it is a legal strategy, and it fits, as you say, into his rhetoric. Think of the reporters who at times have had their credentials yanked from covering the White House or events or political events by the president and his campaign over the years. Think about the question of whether the president's political interest led the administration to intervene against the parent company of CNN, now AT&T, when it sought to acquire Time Warner, or to punish Jeff Bezos' Amazon because of how president is upset with the coverage that's in The Washington Post, which itself is owned personally by Jeff Bezos. People have made the link to the question of government contracts for Amazon.
So this fits into a larger strategy, and it fits into the president's ability to say, these guys are the enemy; in fact, in some ways, they've been libeling me all along.
MARTIN: All right. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik for us on this story. David, thank you. We appreciate it.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE GREG FOAT GROUP'S "THE DANCERS WALTZ")