In a letter to stations in key battleground states, Alex Cannon, legal counsel for the Trump campaign, demanded that they “cease and desist” showing the advert produced by liberal super PAC Priorities USA (PUSA).
The advert features audio of the president downplaying the coronavirus as a chart of the number of confirmed cases in the US ticks up in the background.
While the president has downplayed the severity of the pandemic since the first reported US case in January, the Trump campaign’s complaint focuses on audio in which the president appears to call the virus a “hoax”.
The ad has audio of Trump saying: “This is their new hoax,” without identifying who he was referring to — the number of cases rises on the chart in the graphics.
The Trump campaign says that Priorities USA “stitched together fragments from multiple speeches by President Trump to fraudulently and maliciously imply that President Trump called the coronavirus outbreak a ‘hoax’.
They argue that Trump was “talking about the Democrat’s politicisation of the outbreak when he used the word ‘hoax’.”
Numerous fact-checkers, including The Washington Post, Snopes, Politifact and FactCheck.org, have agreed that it is incorrect to say that Trump called the virus a hoax.
The letter to the stations says: “Because PUSA’s ad’s central point is deliberately false and misleading, your station has an obligation to cease and desist from airing it immediately to comply with FCC licensing requirements, to serve the public interest, and to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.”
Josh Schwerin, senior strategist for Priorities USA, said on Twitter: “The Trump campaign is trying to bully TV stations into taking our ad down. They are not going to be successful because it is literally Trump in his own words. Let’s make sure as many people as possible see this ad.”
The Trump campaign’s threat of legal action follows on from a similar letter sent to the same TV stations by another group, America First Priorities, that also demanded that the advert be pulled off air.
In a statement to The Hill regarding that complaint, Mr Schwerin called the move a “stunt.”
“We stand by the facts in the ad and will continue to make sure that Donald Trump is held accountable for his words and actions that are making this crisis even worse,” he added.