Donald Trump's Re-Election Campaign Threatens TV Stations to Pull Anti-Trump Coronavirus Ad
"The fact that Donald Trump and his team are working so hard to hide his words and actions from the American people means we need to work even harder to spread the truth," the group behind the ad says
Attorneys for Donald Trump‘s re-election campaign this week sent a letter to TV stations demanding they remove anti-Trump political ads they argue don’t accurately reflect the president’s response to the new coronavirus pandemic that’s killed more than a thousand people in the U.S. since its spread nationwide began escalating over the past month.
In the letter, Trump’s campaign lawyers warned that by airing the ad, stations “could put your station’s license in jeopardy” with the Federal Communications Commission.
The 30-second ad was funded by the Priorities USA Super PAC, which supports former Vice President Joe Biden, who currently leads the Democratic primary race and is expected to run against Trump in the November general election.
The crux of the dispute is that the ad stitches together clips of Trump’s own statements about the coronavirus, including video of the president from late February when he said Democrats were trying to use the virus as a politicized “hoax” against him after a failed impeachment effort and the Russia investigation.
Until last week, Trump, 73, had largely downplayed the virus, even comparing it to the less contagious and less deadly seasonal flu.
Since then, he has compared himself to a “wartime” president battling an “invisible enemy” and vowed, “Together, we will care for our fellow citizens. And we will win this war, and we’ll win it much sooner than people think.” He has also declared a national emergency and invoked powers to force the widespread production of needed medical supplies.
At a campaign rally in South Carolina on Feb. 28, however, the president said, “This is their [the Democrats’] new hoax.”
The next day, Washington state reported the first U.S. death linked to the virus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
In the last month, more than 1,475 Americans have died from the virus while the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has surpassed any other country in the world, with more than 85,000 as of Friday morning, according to a New York Times tracker.
The letter, sent by the Trump campaign attorneys and reported on by multiple news outlets, claims the ad is “deliberately false and misleading” by implying Trump called the virus itself a “hoax.”
A spokesperson for Priorities USA tells PEOPLE their organization believes differently.
“We stand by the facts in the ad and every single TV station has agreed to keep running [the ad],” the spokesperson. “The fact that Donald Trump and his team are working so hard to hide his words and actions from the American people means we need to work even harder to spread the truth. Trump’s inaction and lies are continuing to hurt millions of Americans and he must be held accountable.”
The ad is currently running on 75 local stations, plus 11 cable systems, across Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The Trump campaign told Bloomberg that it sent the letter to TV stations in those states, as well as Minnesota. (The campaign did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request to specify which exact stations received the letter.)
The FCC did not immediately respond to PEOPLE about whether the Trump campaign’s threat has any grounds for enforcement, but experts told Bloomberg it wouldn’t be likely for the FCC to pull a station’s licensing for airing the ad.
“This is the sort of letter that stations get in political years, day in and day out,” said Jack Goodman, a Washington broadcast attorney. “It’s intended to intimidate.”
Trump’s campaign lawyers have also reportedly asked Twitter to flag any posts sharing the ad, but according to The Hill the social media company has so far declined to follow the campaign’s request.
“The trump campaign sent a cease and desist letter to Priorities USA for this ad. So I’m retweeting it,” Adam Parkhomenko, a co-founder of the 2016 Ready for Hillary Super PAC, tweeted on Wednesday.
The Trump lawyers argued that the president “was talking about the Democrat’s politicization of the outbreak when he used the word ‘hoax’ ” in late February, thus making the impression in the ad that Trump referred to the virus itself as a “hoax” was not fully accurate.
“We have it totally under control,” Trump is heard saying in the ad.
The president made the exact claim in late January while speaking to CNBC during a trip to Davos, Switzerland, for an economic forum.
“It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control,” Trump continued then. “It’s — going to be just fine.”
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.