Judge agrees with Trump adviser Bannon: Journalists should be protected

By Evan Perez, CNN • Updated 21st March 2018

America’s news outlets: We’re with you, Steve Bannon.

In a move that may yet provide a ray of light to the former White House chief strategist’s legal woes, a federal judge has sided with Bannon on one part of a key civil lawsuit filed by former White House communications director Hope Hicks, CNN and other media outlets alleged in a filing earlier this month.

Hicks is suing Bannon, accusing him of defamation in 2016, for comments he made about her in a Vanity Fair profile.

A federal judge in DC sided with Bannon on Tuesday on his claims of being entitled to qualified privilege as a journalist in the case, news outlets including CNN and BuzzFeed reported Tuesday.

The judge determined Bannon had “religious, political, or ideological views” about the issues he covered and should have been shielded from lawsuits under the provision.

Bannon does not need a declaration to establish his religious, political or ideological beliefs, the judge ruled, according to outlets that published a court filing:

The court did not rule on whether any other of the arguments brought by Bannon to establish his privileged status were outweighed by the other arguments he presented, but the court does acknowledge that none of the arguments the parties presented affects the merits of the case, BuzzFeed and the New York Times reported.

Hicks first filed her lawsuit in May 2016. In October of that year, Bannon responded with a motion that sought to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that it couldn’t be heard in federal court, as it pertained to the actions of the White House.

However, days after a filing from Bannon in the case, the Supreme Court ruled on the same grounds, rejecting an argument brought by Charles Elliott, a Democratic strategist who was fired by President Bill Clinton.

Bannon’s response was filed under seal, but it is unclear if he sought to keep the confidential nature of the filing under wraps in hopes of gaining additional protections.

During an interview with Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison in July 2016, Bannon said, according to statements Hicks’ lawyers filed in the case:

“Hope Hicks and I didn’t start working together until March, and only then because I was working for Breitbart. This is an eight-month-old interview. During this period, Hope’s performance was excellent. (It later became clear that CNN was factually wrong in criticizing Hicks’ job performance.) My writing has evolved over time, but I tried to be as fair as possible throughout this interview. I made certain statements in this article, and I stand by them. Hope and I never had a ‘romantic relationship,’ and there was never any impropriety involved. It was all an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

He continued: “At no time did Hope ask me to lie about any of the things I said in this article, nor did I lie about anything I said. I stand by every word in this article.”

Then in August 2016, Bannon told Fox News host Sean Hannity that in the Vanity Fair profile, ” Hope’s personal life was relevant in that she was supposed to explain all her so-called scandals from her past.”

That led to questions about the accusations of real estate fraud, which Hicks has pleaded not guilty to.

Representatives for Bannon and Hicks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hicks is currently a Fox News contributor.

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