Lawyers for President Trump are threatening to revoke television stations' operating licenses if they don't stop running an ad comparing his comments minimizing the coronavirus pandemic to the skyrocketing number of cases nationwide.
The letter comes as the U.S. recorded the highest number of cases in the in the world. As of last night, the United States had at least 82,100 cases compared to China's reported 81,782, with more than 510,000 cases worldwide. US officials said Thursday's 246 new deaths marked a new high for fatalities reported in a single day, bringing the total number of deaths nationwide to at least 1,195. Today, at 11 a.m., the US totals were 86,158 cases and 1,270 deaths.
The ad, produced by the Joe Biden Super PAC, Priorities USA, dramatically tracks the rise of coronavirus cases in America with Trump's comments saying it was all a Democratic hoax and that he takes no responsibility for the nation's slow response.
At First, Trump's official Super PAC, America First Action, tried unsuccessfully to get the stations in key battleground states to stop running the ad. The stations refused, pointing out that the organization did not have standing to make the demand.
So, lawyers for Donald J. Trump for President sent a Cease and Desist letter to those stations threatening that if they did not pull the ad, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could yank their broadcast licenses. The president, of course, appoints the FCC's members.
Dated March 25, the letter notifies the stations that they are "airing a patently false, misleading, and deceptive advertisement, entitled 'Exponential Threat,' which was paid for by the Priorities USA Action Fund ("PUSA"), a Super PAC formed by Barack Obama Loyalists."
The letter says that "PUSA stitched together fragments from multiple speeches by President Trump to fraudulently and maliciously imply that President Trump called the coronavirus outbreak a 'hoax.'" The letter said Trump was actually "talking about the Democrat's politicization of the outbreak when he used the word 'hoax.'"
The Trump campaign lawyers said the station "has a responsibility to 'protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising,'" under the FCC "and your failure to remove this deceptive ad may be 'probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility' that could put your station's license in jeopardy."
The letter concluded by saying, "Given the foregoing, should you fail to immediately cease broadcasting PUSA’s ad “Exponential Threat”, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. will have no choice but to pursue all legal remedies available to it in law and in equity; we will not stand idly by and allow you to broadcast false, deceptive, and misleading information concerning President’s Trump’s healthcare positions without consequence." The letter was signed by Alex W. Cannon, special counsel, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.
The complete letter can be read on the Trump campaign’s website.
This heavy-handed threat from the Trump campaign's lawyers smacks of efforts by totalitarian governments to limit freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is entirely consistent with Donald Trump and what we have come to expect from the would-be tyrant in the White House.
It is especially concerning given a report a few days ago that the Justice Department has asked for legislation allowing chief judges to indefinitely hold people without trial and suspend other constitutionally protected rights during the coronavirus and other emergencies.
"While the asks from the Department of Justice will likely not come to fruition with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, they demonstrate how much this White House has a frightening disregard for rights enumerated in the Constitution."