A longtime lawyer for President Trump argued in a new court filing this week that he was simply being “hyperbolic” when he suggested adult film actress Stormy Daniels was lying about an affair she claimed to have had with President Trump.
Michael D. Cohen, who has worked with the Trump Organization for close to a decade, is currently being sued by Daniels for defamation. Daniels claims she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, one year after Trump’s marriage to his third wife, Melania. Daniels said that she was initially pressured not to go public with her story in 2011, and in 2016, after attempting to speak out about the affair once more, was contacted by Cohen and paid $130,000 to stay silent — weeks before the 2016 presidential election. Daniels claimed that the money was part of a non-disclosure agreement she entered into with Cohen, who signed on behalf of the shell company. Trump, however, did not sign the document.
In February, responding to reports of the payment, Cohen insisted that he had only paid Daniels the $130,000 to prevent her from smearing Trump’s image in the days leading up to the election.
“Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you hurt or damage,” Cohen said at the time. “I will always protect Mr. Trump.”
Daniels’ defamation suit claims that this statement constituted an attack on her character and defamed her because it implied that she had made up the affair. In Monday’s filing, however — first highlighted by USA Today’s Steve Reilly on Twitter — Cohen’s lawyers pushed back, arguing that the statement was not defamatory because Cohen was just playing politics. His lawyers cited an earlier case from 2001, Rosenaur v. Scherer, in which a local political candidate sued his opponent for claiming in a “heated exchange at a shopping center” and in various campaign literature that the plaintiff was a “thief.” The court eventually ruled in the defendant’s favor, arguing that he had only used “loose figurative language and hyperbole” and had not insinuated that the plaintiff “actually had a criminal past.”
Michael Cohen's statement explaining the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels was merely "a figurative, hyperbolic expression," according to a new filing by his attorney. https://t.co/0bmkXzS95r pic.twitter.com/Fb7kQVoQK6
— Steve Reilly (@BySteveReilly) April 10, 2018
“Here, no reasonable reader of Mr. Cohen’s statement would perceive it to be anything other than a figurative, hyperbolic expression,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote. “Pursuant to the foregoing authorities, the statement by Mr. Cohen is not defamatory as a matter of law, but rather is hyperbole.”
The filing was made in an effort to get the court to dismiss the defamation claim.
Earlier in the document, however, Cohen’s lawyers also cited Daniels’ own previous public statement denying the affair herself, which she had issued through her lawyers on January 10. (In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel on January 30, Daniels appeared to imply that she had only done so to avoid violating the NDA, which at the time she believed could still be used against her.)
“…Even assuming Mr. Cohen’s statement can be interpreted as insinuating that Plaintiff is a liar, it is substantially true,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote. “As shown herein, Plaintiff herself repeatedly denied — in 2011 and twice in January 2018 (in writing) — any intimate relationship with Mr. Trump. In February 2018, she then alleged an intimate relationship. She either lied in 2011 and January 2018, or she lied in February 2018 and is lying now. Thus, even if Mr. Cohen’s statement insinuates that Plaintiff is a liar, it would be a true statement.”
Cohen’s lawyers, then, appear to be arguing — somewhat confusingly — that Cohen couldn’t have been defamatory because his comments were hyperbolic and not meant to imply that Daniels was lying, and simultaneously claiming that Cohen’s statement was true.
Cohen’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an email to ThinkProgress, Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, stated, “We are confident the motion will be denied.”
Cohen has faced mounting pressure in the Stormy Daniels controversy of late. On Monday, FBI agents raided Cohen’s office, home residence, and hotel room at the Loews Regency on Park Avenue, in search of personal emails, tax documents, business records, and “other material” related to the $130,000 payment, as specified in a court warrant. According to the New York Times, the raid was instigated following a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election.
Cohen’s attorney, Stephan Ryan, responded to the raids in a public statement on Monday evening, saying they were “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.”
“[The raids] resulted in the seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients,” Ryan said. “These government tactics are also wrong because Mr. Cohen has cooperated completely with all government entities, including providing thousands of non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath.”
Avenatti, weighed in on the raids a short while later, tweeting, “An enormous amount of misplaced faith has been placed on [Michael Cohen’s] shoulders IMO. If he does not hold up, this could end very very badly for [President Trump] and others.”