Democratic lawyer Marc Elias violated the old maxim about never taking on those who buy ink by the barrel and ended up in a losing battle with the New York Times over the weekend.
Elias, who helped fund the discredited Trump dossier and has battled against Republican-backed election reforms, was incensed over an article about “dark money” being funneled to left-wing activists, including him. He told his 617,000 Twitter followers that the Supreme Court should “revisit” a landmark press freedoms ruling.
“If the media is not going to be pro-democracy, then it probably is time for the courts to revisit New York Times v Sullivan (as conservative lawyers suggest),” Elias tweeted on Saturday. “The case was premised on a role in democracy that the main stream press seems increasingly disinterested in playing.”
Elias, known for his funding of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier while he was the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, deleted the tweet the next day, but at that point, he had picked a fight he couldn't win.
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The article, titled “Democrats Decried Dark Money. Then They Won With It in 2020,” pointed to more than $20 million in dark money that bankrolled election litigation efforts he led while at his old law firm, Perkins Coie. Elias was fighting states that imposed GOP-backed election laws, such as voter ID, that he claims are designed to suppress minority votes.
Dark money refers to political spending by nonprofit organizations that can gather virtually unlimited amounts from donors whose identities are not disclosed.
Elias went so far as to absolve one of the article's writers while blaming "dangerously misguided" portions on co-author Ken Vogel, who has been critical of Elias in the past.
Vogel said in 2017 that when he tried to report on the funding of the dossier, Elias falsely told him that “you (or your sources) are wrong.”
Elias continued a tweetstorm Saturday by referencing the outlet’s 1933 coverage of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Vogel's Old Grey Lady colleagues sprang to his defense.
“In a story as old as America, a powerful man doesn’t get the press coverage he wants, and then wonders whether the press has too much freedom,” reporter Nick Confessore tweeted.
After the backlash, Elias claimed his initial tweet had just been a “test” to prove that the press values its own First Amendment rights above the rights of voters.
"They’re willing to tolerate voter suppression as just ‘politics as usual,’" he wrote Sunday, after deleting most of his prior missives. "To test this, I sent the following tweet.”
When New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted that it was “a bit hard to swallow that this was just a ruse to see how reporters would react,” Elias once again engaged.
“Clearly every NY Times reporter is obligated to defend the equation of protecting voting rights with supporting voter suppression laws,” he replied.
To which Haberman, who in 2017 accused the funders of the dossier of having "lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year,” fired back.
“You're not required to claim we're all doing false equivalence just because we disagree with you raising the prospect of calling for undoing a landmark lawsuit,” she tweeted.
The 1964 case Elias was challenging was decided unanimously, with Justice William Brennan penning the opinion that a defamation lawsuit by a public official should require proving an alleged false statement was made with "actual malice."
Elias may not like the company into which he put himself. Donald Trump suggested as candidate and president that the United States should change its libel laws, and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas have said the Supreme Court ruling should be revisited.
Elias, who launched his own law firm last year, hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which in turn hired Steele in 2016, whom he met with during the campaign.
Elias was punished by a federal appeals court panel in March for a deceptive, duplicative Texas court filing, and the judges shot down his effort to wriggle out of the sanctions earlier this month.
He benefited from “dark money” for years with his Democracy Docket Legal Fund, a “fiscally sponsored project” of the Hopewell Fund, whose board hired a left-wing dark money firm — Arabella Advisors — to manage its fiscal sponsorships.
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The Washington Examiner detailed in early January how Elias attempted to fashion himself as a guardian of democracy despite his lead role in undermining the 2016 presidential election with a baseless Trump-Russia narrative.
Elias responded on Twitter by accidentally referring to himself as someone who was “fighting democracy” before correcting himself.