Judge Signals Trump’s Tweet Over Stormy Daniels Is Free Speech, Not Libel

By and | September 25, 2018

Stormy Daniels’s libel lawsuit over a tweet by Donald Trump looks to be doomed after a judge said the president was engaging in free speech.

The adult film star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claims she was threatened by an unknown man in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 for agreeing to cooperate with a magazine article about a tryst she says she had with Trump in 2006. After her lawyer released a composite sketch of the man, Trump accused Clifford in an April tweet of “a total con job” concerning a “nonexistent man.”

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said at a hearing Monday that considering such statements as defamation would have a chilling effect on candidates running for office and hamper political discourse.

“This appears to be rhetorical hyperbole by a public official involving a public figure,” Otero said. He didn’t issue an immediate ruling.

‘Calling BS’

Trump’s lawyer, Charles Harder, argued the tweet wasn’t a statement of fact — it was the president’s way of “calling BS” on Clifford’s claim, or calling it “hogwash.” Trump has argued in court papers that Clifford, instead of being harmed, has benefited financially from her public dispute with him.

Otero said he would hold a hearing in December over whether to dismiss a separate case in which Clifford challenged the validity of a $130,000 “hush payment” deal she struck with Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump and Cohen say the suit should be dismissed because each declared this month that he won’t fight to enforce the agreement. Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, contends it’s in the public interest to keep the case going so the truth about the agreement can be made public. He wants to force Trump and Cohen to give sworn testimony in depositions.

In the months leading up to Cohen’s guilty last plea in August to campaign finance violations, Clifford’s case made a TV personality of Avenatti, who has expressed interest in running for president in 2020.

The cases are Clifford v. Trump, 18-cv-02217 and 18-cv-06893, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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