Score one for President Donald Trump in his ongoing legal battle with adult film star, Stormy Daniels.
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A federal judge in California late Monday dismissed Daniels’ defamation claim against the president and ordered her to reimburse Trump’s legal fees for defending the lawsuit.
An attorney for the president, Charles Harder, characterized the ruling in a statement as “a total victory for President Trump and a total defeat for Stormy Daniels.”
Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti quickly filed a notice of an intention to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The defamation claim from Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, was originally filed in New York federal court earlier this year. The lawsuit claimed Trump acted with “actual malice” and “reckless disregard for the truth” when he posted a tweet mocking her claim that she was threatened by an unknown man to keep silent about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
The case was later transferred to federal court in California.
In an April appearance on ABC’s “The View,” Daniels and Avenatti released a sketch of the man she claims menaced her and her toddler daughter in 2011 in a Las Vegas parking lot shortly after she granted an interview to In Touch magazine about her alleged tryst with Trump, then a real estate mogul and reality-TV star.
Daniels alleges the man told her to “leave Trump alone” and to “forget the story.”
The magazine didn’t publish its story about Daniels claims until January of 2018 – after the Wall Street Journal published the first accounts of a non-disclosure agreement signed just weeks before the 2016 election.
In interviews with The View and on CBS’ 60 Minutes earlier this year, Daniels intimated that either Trump or his then-personal attorney, Michael Cohen, must have been behind the alleged threat.
To date, no evidence has emerged to support the claim.
One day after Daniels revealed the sketch – Trump ridiculed the claim on twitter as “a sketch years later about a non-existent man.” He called it a “total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools.”
A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)! https://t.co/9Is7mHBFda
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
In deciding in favor of the president, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero – who is also overseeing Daniels’ pending lawsuit about her non-disclosure agreement – ruled that Trump’s tweet “constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
Otero noted that Daniels had “sought to publicly present herself as an adversary” to Trump, and that to deny him the ability to engage in responding to her allegations “would significantly hamper the office of the President.”
“Any strongly-worded response by a president to another politician or public figure could constitute an action for defamation,” Otero wrote in his opinion. “This would deprive the country of the ‘discourse’ common to the political process.”
“Such a holding would violate the First Amendment,” Otero ruled.
Otero also denied Daniels’ efforts to engage in what he called a “fishing expedition” to seek evidence that Trump was aware of the alleged threat.
Otero has scheduled a hearing for early December on Trump and Cohen’s motions to dismiss Daniels’ principal lawsuit, which seeks a court ruling that the non-disclosure agreement she signed in late October 2016 in invalid.
Cohen and Trump have recently abandoned their opposition to the lawsuit, effectively conceding that the contract is void, and they have asked Otero to dismiss the claim.
Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, has countered that the case should continue because the public deserves to know why a candidate for president and his attorney were so determined to silence his client.
“I have been practicing law for nearly twenty years,” Avenatti tweeted last month.
“Never before have I seen a defendant so frightened to be deposed as Donald Trump, especially for a guy who talks so tough,” Avenatti wrote. “He is desperate and doing all he can to avoid having to answer my questions. He is all hat and no cattle.”
Re Judge’s limited ruling: Daniels’ other claims against Trump and Cohen proceed unaffected. Trump’s contrary claims are as deceptive as his claims about the inauguration attendance.
We will appeal the dismissal of the defamation cause of action and are confident in a reversal.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) October 15, 2018