By ERIC TUCKER, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press on Monday asked a judge to dismiss a libel lawsuit brought by a Russian billionaire with ties to President Vladimir Putin, calling the case "intrusive, expensive and chilling" with no legitimate claim of defamation.
Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska sued in May over an AP report two months earlier that revealed his past business connections to Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump. He said the story was inaccurate and had hurt his career by falsely accusing him of criminal activity.
The AP has stood by the story as accurate, and in court papers filed Monday, lawyers for the news cooperative said Deripaska was challenging the story based on his own "strained implications" and incorrect inferences, rather than on information actually conveyed in the report.
For example, the story noted that Manafort had not publicly disclosed his work as a foreign agent for Deripaska, which possibly opened the American to legal repercussions. Deripaska in his lawsuit said the report unfairly impugned him for that element of Manafort's conduct, but the AP legal filing says such reporting "does not create any actionable defamatory meaning about Deripaska."
The lawyers also argue that Deripaska, by virtue of his public profile, should be treated under the law as a "limited public figure," which would require him to satisfy a tougher legal standard — namely, that the authors of the story acted with malice in publishing the story — to prevail in his lawsuit.
"A public figure like Deripaska must allege facts — and not simply conclusions — that if proven would plausibly establish publication by AP with 'actual malice' in order to state a claim. He has not done so," the lawyers say.
Deripaska said in his lawsuit that readers of the AP story "were left with the impression" that the billionaire's "private, commercial dealings were_and still may be_deeply intertwined with the Trump campaign controversy." But the AP legal filing notes "the report makes clear that Deripaska's relationship with Manafort ended years ago."
The AP story was based on interviews with people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records, including strategy memoranda and records of international wire transfers for millions of dollars.
The story revealed how Manafort, a decade before joining the Trump campaign, had proposed to Deripaska a confidential business strategy to support pro-Russian political parties and to influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit Putin's government.
The AP also asked to be awarded attorneys' fees under the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act. That law, meant to protect against meritless efforts to chill speech or publication on matters of public importance, empowers defendants who are sued to seek fees to cover the costs of litigation.
Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP