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Donald Trump’s Claims That Ted Cruz ‘Stole’ Iowa Probably Don’t Have Legal Merit


shutterstock_353116925Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is going after Ted Cruz for “illegally stealing” the win in Iowa. Cruz came through with a surprising Iowa Caucus win. Trump even goes so far as to call it fraud. If you check out the Donald’s twitter feed Wednesday morning, you will see an explosion of angry tweets. The real estate mogul says the results should be nullified. Here are just a few:

So we decided to look into his claims to see if any of them even dabble into the “illegal” territory as Trump contends.

Trump Claim #1: The Ted Cruz “voter violation” mailer was fraud

Backstory: Days before the Iowa caucuses, the Ted Cruz campaign sent out mailers aimed at motivated lower-turnout voters to show up. On top of the yellow notices, the mailer reads in big red letters “OFFICIAL PUBLIC RECORD” and “VOTING VIOLATION.” Here is one:

voting violation 2

Legal analysis: The Iowa Secretary of State was definitely concerned that this could be “misleading to voters.” In a statement, he called it a “false representation of an official act.” Among election law experts, there is some concern that this crossed the legal line by falsely representing an “official public record.”

“I get the idea behind it to try to motivate people to participate in the caucus, but the way that is done in terms of pawning itself off as a public record is what’s problematic,” Iowa attorney Gary Dickey told He’s a Democrat by the way. Check out our previous article for more legal analysis on that claim.

However, on the envelope of the mailer, you will see “Paid for by Cruz for President,” so while the mailers were pretty shady, Cruz would probably have a pretty good defense that he disclosed that these were not an official government document.

Trump Claim #2: Cruz put out a release that Ben Carson was quitting the race, and to caucus for Cruz.

Backstory: While we couldn’t find the actual press release, Cruz has admitted to this, sort of.  Cruz apologized after some of his staff “mistakenly” told voters that Carson planned to quit the race. Cruz says the confusion happened after his political team saw the CNN post saying that Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.

ben carson screenshot

Legal analysis: While maybe dirty politics, this would be a bit of a stretch in terms of a legal claim. First off, there is really no law prohibiting politicians from spreading untruths. Unfortunately, the fact that politicians spew lies is as old as politics. Their speech is generally protected by the First Amendment.

As for whether this could fall into the exception and be considered  slander/libel — also a stretch. Under the law, it is much easier to make a slander claim if the person is a private citizen. Ted Cruz is clearly not that. For public officials, you must be able to prove “actual malice.” This was a condition established in 1964 by the famous Supreme Court case, New York Times Co. V. Sullivan. The court ruled that in order for a libel lawsuit to succeed  there must be “knowledge that the information was false” or that it was published “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” So while Trump has certainly argued that the Cruz campaign purposely and with bad intent told caucus-goers that Carson was dropping out, it would be hard to prove. For one, rumors were indeed swirling at the time that Ben Carson was not going to New Hampshire (which could be perceived as sign he is dropping out). Plus, Cruz said he inferred that conclusion from a report on CNN. By the way, “actual malice” does not include mere neglect in fact checking.

So, unless some other evidence emerges, it would seem Trump would be on pretty shaky grounds if he tried to make any sort of legal claim against Cruz. Not surprisingly, Cruz is also firing back in a statement released Wednesday.

“Reality has hit the reality star,” the Cruz spokesperson wrote, “Since Iowa, no one’s talking about Donald Trump. That’s why he’s popping up on Twitter.”

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Rachel Stockman is President of Law&Crime which includes Law&Crime Productions, Law&Crime Network and Under her watch, the company has grown from just a handful of people to a robust production company and network producing dozens of true crime shows a year in partnership with major networks. She also currently serves as Executive Producer of Court Cam, a hit show on A&E, and I Survived a Crime, a new crime show premiering on A&E this fall. She also oversees production of a new daily syndicated show Law&Crime Daily, which is produced in conjunction with Litton Entertainment. In addition to these shows, her network and production company produce programs for Facebook Watch, Cineflix and others. She has spent years covering courts and legal issues, and was named Atlanta Press Club's 'Rising Star' in 2014. Rachel graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and Yale Law School.