Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
President Trump's reelection campaign sent cease and desist letters to local news outlets on Wednesday threatening legal action if they refused to stop airing a Democratic super PAC's ad suggesting the president called the coronavirus a "hoax."
Priorities USA, led by a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, released the ad as part of a $6 million effort to attack Trump's response to the pandemic. Titled "Exponential Threat," it followed other ads in splicing together Trump's statements to make it appear as though he said: "The coronavirus, this is their new hoax."
According to The Washington Post, Trump never made that exact statement but it was included in another ad released by former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign. The Post also determined that Trump wasn't calling the virus itself a hoax.
The campaign highlighted the Post's fact check along with others in the letters sent to local news outlets.
"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," read the letters, signed by campaign attorney Alex W. Cannon.
According to the campaign, the local stations bore unique responsibility since they weren't required to broadcast PUSA's ad like they are with ads paid for by candidate committees.
"PUSA’s advertisement is false, misleading, and deceptive, and we formally demand that your station refuse to continue airing it to meet your responsibilities not to broadcast false information," the letter read, "Unlike candidate committees, PUSA does not have a 'right to command the use of broadcast facilities.'"
The campaign further warned that failure to remove the ad could put stations' licenses in jeopardy.
Trump's team previously asked Twitter to flag a nearly identical ad to Priorities USA's, but the social media giant refused.
"Fellow Americans," a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, ran the ad but it's unclear where the group originated. Its website is relatively sparse and vaguely refers to opposing political division in the United States. Both ads splice together Trump's statements while displaying a chart that shows the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the United States.
PUSA's ad followed those from other Democrat-aligned groups who sought to criticize Trump's coronavirus response. A PAC tied to former Obama aide David Plouffe is also planning to spend millions in attack ads targeting several key swing states.
Americans for Public Trust, an outside group led by former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, is claiming that similar anti-Trump messaging is coming from a series of organizations tied to Arabella Advisors -- a dark money nonprofit providing help to liberal groups. Specifically, it manages the New Venture Fund (NVF) and Sixteen Thirty Fund, both of which have supported another Democrat-aligned group -- American Bridge -- that's hitting Trump on the coronavirus response.
The New Venture Fund has also supported Acronym, the nonprofit led by Plouffe. New Venture Fund previously distanced itself from Pacronym, telling Fox News it had "nothing to do" with the group's ad.
Guy Cecil, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, leads PUSA, which was created by former campaign officials for Barack Obama. The group also has received funding from liberal billionaire George Soros.
Other former advisers to top Democrats have also started a "coronavirus war room" at Protect Our Care, an organization which as been described as a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund. According to the group's director, the war room was designed to hold Trump "accountable for his failure to lead" during the pandemic.
Heading the war room is Zac Petkanas, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Sarah Chase, a former research associate for the presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is joining the team as well.
Fox News previously reported on how multiple media outlets omitted context surrounding Trump's comments to his rally audience in February.
"Now, the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus," Trump told the crowd. "Coronavirus, they're politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You see, 'How's President Trump doing?' They go, 'oh not good, not good.' They have no clue. They can't even count their votes in Iowa -- not they can't, they can't count their votes.
"One of my people came up to me and said, 'Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia, that didn't work out too well. They couldn't do it. They tried the impeachment hoax,' that was on a perfect conversation, 'they tried anything, they tried it over and over and they've been doing it since you got in. It's all turning, they lost, it's all turning -- think of it, think of it, and this is their new hoax.'"