- The Supreme Court declined to hear Stormy Daniels’ appeal in her libel lawsuit against Donald Trump.
- Daniels’, legal name Stephanie Clifford, had sued Trump in federal court over a 2018 tweet.
- In July 2020, a panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the tweet was not defamatory.
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The US Supreme Court is declining to hear Stormy Daniels’ appeal in her libel lawsuit against former President Donald Trump.
Daniels, a prominent adult film actress whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, had sued Trump in federal court in California.
She argued he defamed her in a 2018 tweet where he questioned her story of being intimidated in a parking lot with her young daughter by a man who threatened her against going public with her claims that she had a sexual affair with Trump in 2006, an affair that Trump denies.
Daniels said that as was she planning to tell her story to a magazine in 2011, a man approached her and said “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,” while threatening that bad things would happen to her if she went forward.
It wasn’t until January 2018 that the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump was involved in arranging a substantial hush money payment and nondisclosure agreement with Daniels just weeks before the 2016 election.
“A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!” Trump tweeted on April 18, 2018, from his now-suspended Twitter account, quote tweeting a posting that suggested the man who Daniels said threatened her could have actually been her ex-husband.
After a US District Court dismissed Daniels’ suit, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Trump and rejected Daniels’ appeal of the dismissal in July 2020, ruling that the tweet was an expression of opinion based on another user’s tweet and not defamatory. Daniels filed an appeal up to the Supreme Court in October 2020.
“Viewed through the eyes of an objectively reasonable reader, the tweet here reflects Mr. Trump’s opinion about the implications of the allegedly similar appearances of Ms. Clifford’s ex-husband and the man in the sketch,” the 9th Circuit panel’s opinion said, characterizing Trump’s tweet as “an opinion” and noting that “statements of opinion cannot form the basis of a defamation claim.”
The 9th Circuit also rejected Daniels’ claim that Trump’s reference to a “total con job” amounted to accusing her of criminal fraud.
“It would be clear to a reasonable reader that the tweet was not accusing Clifford of actually committing criminal activity,” the opinion said. “Instead, as used in this context, the term ‘con job’ could not be interpreted as anything more than a colorful expression of rhetorical hyperbole.”
Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, one count of making an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an illegal campaign finance contribution on October 27, 2016.
Trump was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator, “Individual-1,” on some counts in the case.
The final two charges were related to hush money payments made to Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal before the 2016 election. Both women had threatened to go public with details of extramarital affairs they said they had with Trump in the 2000s.
Cohen said he facilitated a $130,000 payment to Daniels “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election,” which violates campaign finance law by exceeding the maximum contribution of $2,800 that a person can give to a candidate for federal office.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.