Literary group says Trump lawsuit settlement protects journalists

Donald Trump at a press conference
President Donald Trump is filing numerous lawsuits calling the election results illegitimate.

A literary group that sued then-President Donald Trump with claims he repeatedly violated the First Amendment in his dealings with the media announced a settlement with the government on Thursday.

Pen America, a human rights organisation of writers, literary and media professionals, said the settlement would serve to protect journalists in the future.

The group said the deal left intact a judge’s ruling upholding its standing to challenge Mr Trump’s threats and acts of retaliation against journalists and the media.

The organisation sued Mr Trump in Manhattan federal court in 2018 on behalf of its 7,500 members, saying he is not free to use the power and authority of the US government to punish and stifle the press.

Government lawyers notified a judge of the settlement, without elaborating on its terms. A spokesperson for government lawyers declined comment.

In October, Judge Lorna G Schofield had allowed the government to appeal whether declaratory relief could be awarded against a sitting president in his official capacity for his discretionary conduct. Weeks later, Mr Trump lost his quest for re-election to the current president, Joe Biden.

Last March, Mr Schofield had refused to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the non-profit organisation could sue over claims Mr Trump selectively barred access to the White House and threatened to revoke press credentials or security clearances of ex-government officials whose commentary he disliked.

Suzanne Nossel, Pen America’s chief executive, said in a release that the lawsuit and settlement “represents an important win for free speech, a free press, and the First Amendment”.

“The outcome is clear: Not even the president of the United States can invoke the power of government to threaten members of the press based on their coverage,” she said.

“While a president has First Amendment rights, he or she does not have licence to use the authority of the office to menace critical journalists or punish their coverage.”

Kristy Parker, a former Justice Department lawyer who worked on the lawsuit, said Mr Trump left behind “a toxic anti-media streak” in the US.

“We’d be naive to think that no future political candidates would consider emulating him, which is why this case was such a crucial marker. Would-be imitators now know that this anti-First Amendment behaviour will be challenged and stand a strong chance of being held to account,” Parker said.

Pen America’s members include Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief domestic correspondent, whose White House press credentials were temporarily revoked in November 2018 by the Trump administration.

“Our First Amendment rights are always worth defending,” Mr Acosta said in the release.

“And it’s in all our interests as Americans that we maintain a strong and independent free press in the United States.”

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