A Los Angeles federal judge strongly indicated Monday that a Twitter post by President Donald Trump calling former adult-film actress Stormy Daniels a liar falls under “protected free speech,” suggesting the judge will toss out her libel lawsuit against the president.
Daniels sued Trump alleging he libeled her in April when he tweeted that she had fabricated a story about being threatened by a stranger who told her to keep quiet about an alleged affair she claims she had with Trump more than a decade ago.
The actress and tell-all author alleged that an unidentified man — who was shown in a composite sketch released to the public April 17 — approached her in 2011 while she was holding her infant daughter in a Las Vegas parking lot. She claimed the man told her, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story. That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”
A day later, Trump tweeted: “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”
During a hearing Monday in downtown Los Angeles, Trump’s attorney, Charles Harder, told the court the tweet was protected by the First Amendment because, among other things, it consisted of a public official’s opinion about a public figure. He also alleged that Daniels had not shown evidence of any harm suffered as a result of the tweet.
Daniels’ co-counsel, Ahmed Ibrahim, countered that Trump’s tweet could be proven to be a “bald-faced lie” issued with “actual malice.”
But U.S. District Judge S. James Otero indicated that the lawsuit — which was moved from New York to Los Angeles last month — would not hold up to his scrutiny. It required a “long stretch” to find that Trump’s tweet was libelous, the judge said.
“In the court’s view, this appears to be political hyperbole — and appears to be protected,” the judge said from the bench. He gave no indication when he might issue a final ruling.
Meanwhile, Otero set a Dec. 3 hearing to consider a defense motion to dismiss a separate lawsuit by Daniels against Trump, his ex-attorney Michael Cohen and a shell company Cohen created. Daniels, whose just-published book “Full Disclosure” details her alleged affair with Trump more than a decade ago, is seeking to nullify a non-disclosure agreement she signed before the 2016 presidential election.
That case, however, could be moot based on papers filed this month by attorneys for Trump and Cohen saying they have no plan to go forward with a threatened $20 million lawsuit against Daniels for speaking out about the alleged affair.
The pact attempted to prevent her from speaking out about the one-night stand she contends she had with Trump, but she has already discussed the alleged affair in her book and in interviews.
Also subject to the lawsuit is Essential Consultants — a shell company set up by Cohen to handle a $130,000 payment made to Daniels in exchange for her signing the agreement.
Otero has postponed the start of the non-disclosure agreement lawsuit twice. In April, the judge ordered a three-month stay in light of a federal criminal investigation of Cohen that is continuing in the Southern District of New York. With that investigation ongoing, Otero agreed in July to extend the stay for another 45 days.
Daniels, 39, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had sex once with the married Trump in 2006 and carried on a platonic relationship with him for about a year afterward. Trump has denied any sexual relationship with Daniels.
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