A US judge has dismissed Donald Trump’s $100 million lawsuit against The New York Times and its reporters over an award-winning 2018 exposé on his taxes.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Robert Reed threw out the case in a ruling that also ordered the former president to pay the news outlet’s lawyer fees and costs.
“Courts have long recognised that reporters are entitled to engage in legal and ordinary newsgathering activities without fear of tort liability — as these actions are at the very corner of protected First Amendment activity,” Mr Reed said in his ruling.
The Times report, which won a Pulitzer Prize, detailed how Mr Trump’s real estate business claimed suspiciously low valuations on properties to minimise tax liability and also revealed that his inheritance from his father was worth more than $400 million, contrary to his frequent assertion that he only received a small loan of about $1 million.
“The New York Times is pleased with the judge's decision today,” representative Charlie Stadtlander said in a statement.
“It is an important precedent reaffirming that the press is protected when it engages in routine newsgathering to obtain information of vital importance to the public.”
Mr Trump had also accused his niece, Mary Trump, of violating a confidentiality agreement by acting as a source for the Times report — and alleged that the newspaper assisted her in that breach of confidence.
The judge said the reporters were simply reporting on a matter of great public interest.
Ms Trump’s request for dismissal from the case is still pending.
The judge rejected Mr Trump’s argument that a Times reporter broke the law by enticing Ms Trump to “pilfer documents” held by her lawyer. Mr Reed concluded that Ms Trump was a valid owner of the files and that her lawyer gave her permission to take them.
The former president “does not cite a single case where any court, whether state or federal, has held that a reporter is liable for inducing his or her source to breach of confidentiality provision”, the judge said.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement that all journalists “must be held accountable” for civil breaches.
“The New York Times is no different and its reporters went well beyond the conventional news gathering techniques permitted by the First Amendment,” Ms Habba said.
“In light of the court’s decision, we will weigh our client’s options and continue to vigorously fight on his behalf.”