Published 9:10 PM EDT Sep 24, 2018
LOS ANGELES — Stormy Daniels brought her libel case against President Donald Trump to federal court Monday — and the judge indicated he was not impressed.
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero did not rule from the bench, but told the porn actress’ attorneys that it appeared a tweet by Trump that named her appeared to be speech protected by the First Amendment.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, had filed the suit after Trump sent out a tweet dismissing comments she had made in broadcast interviews.
When Daniels said in a TV interview that a man had confronted her in 2011 after alleging an affair with Trump in an attempt to silence her, the president tweeted that the accoster who made the threats was a “non-existent man” and that her allegation was a “total con job.”
But, Otero said it appeared to him that the tweet was protected as free speech since it related to a matter of public concern and involved public figures.
Daniels was “in the process of making her story known to the world,” Otero said. He said the president’s tweets appeared to be “hyperbole that would be protected.”
Such speech “lies at the heart of the First Amendment” and to try to restrict it would have a “chilling effect on candidates running for office," the judge said. He will rule later.
Attorneys for Daniels argued that Trump’s tweet was false, and that they would which would be proven through discovery as the case went on.
But Trump’s attorneys said that tweet was purely opinion in the realm of political speech.
“It’s all protected free speech," said attorney Charles Harder.
Also, Otero scheduled hearings in December to discuss Trump’s efforts to dismiss another lawsuit by Daniels over a hush-money agreement related to their alleged affair.
Trump, Cohen and a company formed by Cohen want the lawsuit dismissed. Daniels wants the case to continue with Trump and Cohen ordered to be deposed about the allegations.
The legal dispute focuses on the deal that was devised to buy Daniels' silence in the closing stages of the 2016 presidential campaign about a sexual affair she says she had with Trump.
Trump, who has repeatedly denied the claim, could have faced political damage if the alleged affair captured headlines in the final days of the race in which he beat Hillary Clinton and won the White House.
Cohen negotiated the terms of the deal, which involved a $130,000 payment to Daniels from Essential Consultants LLC, a company he formed shortly before the agreement.
Daniels filed a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit in March 2018 against Trump and Essential Consultants. The case was subsequently transferred to federal court and Cohen was added as a named defendant.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing Daniels, argued in a Sept. 10 court filing that dismissing the case without a resolution of the allegations " would be premature and would erode public confidence in the courts."
"After leading this court to believe for six months that they had a good faith basis to assert that the settlement agreement was a valid contract, that it was not illegal, and that it had nothing to do with Mr. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, the court cannot simply allow defendants to exit the case without facing any true consequences or a meaningful inquiry into the truth," wrote Avenatti.
He previously told CNN that Trump and Cohen want the case dismissed so they can avoid being deposed about their actions.
Contributing: The Associated Press.