Photo by mark reinstein via Shutterstock

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump threatened to sue The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump political action committee, on Friday, Oct. 23, for what their attornies deemed to be “defamatory” and “malicious” billboard advertisements posted in Times Square in Manhattan. 

The billboards had two separate advertisements, one featuring President Donald Trump, the other of Kushner, placing them both in direct juxtaposition to figures of COVID-19 death rates and to grisly imagery surrounding the pandemic.

One Billboard showed Ivanka Trump, in poignant animation, motioning towards the COVID-19 death numbers (the photo used was of her in a July, Goya photo endorsement) of 33,000 New Yorkers and 221,000 Americans who have died as a result of the pandemic. 

The other billboard placed Kushner grinning next to a string of body bags and the quote “[New Yorkers] are going to suffer and that’s their problem” positioned alongside him, which was an alleged quote stated by Kushner, taken from Vanity Fair, which was reported to them by an anonymous source and has no direct bearing to the advertisement. 

“I am writing concerning the false, malicious and defamatory ads that the Lincoln Project is displaying on billboards in Times Square,” Marc Kasowitz, an attorney representing Trump and Kushner, in legal retaliation to the advertisements, stated in a letter to the Lincoln Project. 

“If these billboards are not immediately removed, we will sue you for what will doubtless be enormous compensatory and punitive damages,” he wrote.

“Of course, Mr. Kushner never made any such statement, Ms. Trump never made any such gesture, and the Lincoln Project’s representations that they did are an outrageous and shameful libel,” he wrote.

The Lincoln project, in response, sent an openly scathing letter citing numerous legal reasons for their justification in maintaining the advertisements, and said that they would “welcome the opportunity to further establish the truthfulness of its [billboards] through litigation and investigation.”

“The level of indignant outrage Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have shown towards The Lincoln Project for exposing their indifference for the more than 223,000 people who have lost their lives due to their reckless mismanagement of COVID-19 is comical,” the letter read. 

“While we truly enjoy living rent free in their heads, their empty threats will not be taken any more seriously than we take Ivanka and Jared.” 

The Lincoln Project is a group largely composed of former Republicans who are emphatically opposed to the Trump Administration and driven by impassioned aims to have him defeated on Nov. 3. The group rebukes Trump and his policies, with at times deeply incendiary censures, which by consequence have garnered them some virality on social media.

“It is unsurprising that an administration that has never had any regard or understanding of our Constitution would try to trample on our first amendment rights but we fully intend on making this civics lesson as painful as possible,” the statement added. “This isn’t over. Mr. Kushner and Ms.Trump will hear from The Lincoln Project soon.” 

The legality surrounding the ability of Trump and Kushner to sue successfully stands on tenuous footing, given the difficulty of Public Figures and Officials being able to win such cases.

According to Cornell University Law School, “Libel is a method of defamation (…) that is injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.” 

In the case of Kushner and Trump, in order for them to stand any chance at winning the case, according to Cornell Documents outlining supreme court authority, “public officials, [and] public figures must (…) prove that actual malice had been the intent of libelous claims against them,” further reasoning that, “speech related to matters of public concern is at the heart of the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, and outweighs the State’s interest in compensating individuals for damage to their reputations.”

Harvard University Law School marks the New York Times v.s. Sullivan defamation case as when the “Actual malice” principle was born.” 

In that case, “The court ruled that, especially in the case of public officials and public figures, media outlets (the press) have their freedom of speech protected even if what they said is false.”

“Actual Malice” is defined as “[having] knowledge that [one’s claim] is false or [having] a reckless disregard of whether it was false or not,” according to Middle Tennessee State University. 

Actual malice is very difficult to prove, according to the First Amendment Encyclopedia. 

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, in correspondence with The Guardian further added to the conjectured unlikeliness of actual legal action.

“It does seem unlikely that Ivanka and Jared would actually sue the Lincoln Project, … if they did sue, the litigation might take years to resolve, [and] be expensive … suits like this by people who have thrust themselves into the public eye are notoriously difficult to win,” Tobias said.

Written ByDaniel Seidman

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