By ERIC TUCKER, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought against The Associated Press by a Russian billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said in the 21-page ruling that aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who sued over a March story about his business relationship with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, had "cherry-picked sentences" that he wrongly claimed were defamatory.
She noted that Deripaska "does not dispute any material facts" presented by the news cooperative about his background and his role in advocating for Russian interests internationally.
The judge also said Deripaska had failed to show the AP's story was published with actual malice or with reckless disregard for the truth, a legal standard he would have to meet for the case to move forward.
Instead, she said, Deripaska had merely complained that the story omitted what he considered crucial background.
"As the AP points out," Huvelle wrote, "this simply is not enough to make out a plausible case of actual malice."
The judge agreed with the AP's characterization of Deripaska as a "limited-purpose public figure," whose wealth and interactions with the Russian government had made him the legitimate subject of media coverage for more than a decade. Public figures have a higher legal burden to meet in arguing that statements about them are defamatory.
The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, which means Deripaska cannot bring it again.
"The Associated Press is pleased with the court's decision. As we have said, we stand by our reporting and will continue to stand by our story," the news organization said in a statement.
The AP asked in July for the lawsuit to be dismissed, saying that Deripaska was challenging the article based on his own "strained implications" rather than what it actually said. Huvelle echoed that defense in rejecting as defamatory three separate statements that Deripaska had selected from the story.
"Deripaska has cherry-picked sentences and strung them together to give the AP's article an effect it does not have when read in full," the judge wrote. "But whole context is how courts determine whether there is defamation."
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.