US conservative activist sues Polish paper for defamation

AP News
Posted: Jun 21, 2017 1:02 PM
US conservative activist sues Polish paper for defamation

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Warsaw court began hearing testimony Wednesday on claims by a conservative American political activist that he was defamed by a Polish journalist who described him as "Trump's man" and as sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Matthew Tyrmand of the group Project Veritas brought the case against journalist Tomasz Piatek and Agora, publisher of the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, over a 2016 article that described Tyrmand as "part of the global war by the right-wing against democracy."

Tyrmand is demanding an apology and 50,000 Polish zlotys ($13,000) he says he will donate to charity if he wins.

The first person to take the witness stand as the trial opened was Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe. Project Veritas carries out undercover operations in the United States which it says are aimed at uncovering wrongdoing, but the group has been criticized for its tactics.

During the U.S. election campaign last year, the group placed one of its activists undercover inside the Hillary Clinton campaign. It also took two separate donations of $10,000 each from Donald Trump, something that O'Keefe, 32, revealed in his testimony Wednesday,

He insisted the sum was "insignificant" given the group's overall budget of $5 million.

In an article published in May 2016, Piatek wrote an article looking at the activities of Tyrmand, who is the son of the late Leopold Tyrmand, a prominent Polish communist-era dissident and writer. The young Tyrmand is a political commentator in his father's homeland and has served as an informal adviser to the current conservative government.

The starting point for Piatek's article was Tyrmand's criticism of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, a Polish group that has organized anti-government protests over what it sees as erosions of democracy. Piatek described Tyrmand's unsubstantiated allegations that billionaire American0Hungarian investor George Soros was secretly funding the group to bring down the government.

Titled "Leopold's Son, Trump's Man," the article said Tyrmand had expressed sympathy for Putin.

Tyrmand did not take the stand Wednesday, but told The Associated Press there was no basis for the way Piatek described him and that the reporter never tried to contact him for comment.

He said that when the article was published he still supported Republican candidate Ted Cruz and only shifted his allegiance to Trump later. Describing himself as a "transparency advocate," he said the idea that he would support Putin is "beyond offensive."

"The idea that you could Google me and see that somehow I am tied to Vladimir Putin, I cannot let that stand," Tyrmand said.

He and O'Keefe also objected to Piatek referring to O'Keefe as a "specialist in illegal recordings and eavesdropping."

O'Keefe told the court that while he does engage in undercover operations, with methods including people assuming false identities, he never breaks the law.

Piatek, who will only testify later, told the AP his column was a reaction to allusions that Tyrmand had previously made against his newspaper as being governed by the "mafia."

He also said he found it suspicious that Tyrmand did not start the proceedings against him right away, but only sued after a separate article of his was published that was critical of Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz. That article, published in July 2016, exposed the minister's past role editing an anti-Semitic publication.

The next session in the case is in November, with the verdict expected sometime later.