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Polish journalist wins legal battle against Bannon protege

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish journalist who described a protégé of Steve Bannon as part of a global war against democracy by global right-wing actors with indirect ties to Russia has won a years-long legal battle with the conservative activist.

Matthew Tyrmand, an American with Polish roots, has written for Breitbart and is a board member of the organization Project Veritas, which carries out undercover stings against media organizations seeking to expose what it believes is left-wing bias.

Tyrmand sued Polish journalist Tomasz Piatek and Agora, publisher of the liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, over a 2016 article that described Tyrmand as “part of the global war by the right wing against democracy” and as a supporter of Donald Trump, who was not yet the U.S. president.

Tyrmand objected to several points in the article, including the description of him as “Trump’s man” and an allegation that he had an indirect link to Russia due to Trump’s sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also objected to Piatek writing that Project Veritas wages “informational warfare.”

Tyrmand maintained that the 2016 article was defamatory and sued Piatek, losing an initial case and also on appeal.

The judge in the lower court argued argued that it was not defamatory to describe Tyrmand as part of Trump’s circle when he has written for Breitbart and been associated with other pro-Trump political actors. A panel of three judges at the appellate court upheld that ruling, though one of the three dissented.

The appellate court’s judgment became final earlier this week after a deadline passed by which Tyrmand would have had to appeal higher to the country’s Supreme Court.

Tyrmand told The Associated Press that he decided to end his legal battle because he had “little faith” in getting a fair hearing if he continued.

“I have decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court because frankly after reading the ridiculousness of the appellate court ruling, my faith in the judiciary acting apolitically stands somewhere between low and none,” Tyrmand said in message sent Wednesday.

Piatek, who has written books that explore alleged links between people in the world of politics, business and the media with pro-Kremlin groups, welcomed the ruling.

“It’s a victory of truth,” he told the AP on Thursday from Warsaw.

The Tyrmand name is known in Poland because the activist’s father is the late Leopold Tyrmand, a prominent Polish-Jewish communist-era dissident and writer who survived the Holocaust and emigrated to the United States in the 1960s.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign Tyrmand distributed the film “Clinton Cash” — which portrayed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as captive to wealthy foreign interests — in Poland.

Around that time he was also writing articles for Breitbart News, led by Bannon, who later became Trump’s chief strategist. Tyrmand also had friendly ties to some members of Poland’s conservative government.

Piatek and editors at Gazeta Wyborcza believed that Tyrmand’s case against them was part of a broader effort by the government and people friendly to it to have a chilling effect on its journalists.

Tyrmand has denied that and said he was fighting to defend his reputation.

During the initial trial, Tyrmand argued that the article connected him “in this tenuous guilt-by-association to Vladimir Putin.” He called it the “biggest slander and slur” possible in a part of Europe that had “achieved independence from the Soviet tyranny.”

Tyrmand also argued that it was unfair to call him a supporter of Trump, arguing that at the time that the article was published he still backed Republican challenger Ted Cruz.

Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press