August 28, 2018 / 7:53 PM / a month ago

Citing free speech, Trump seeks dismissal of Stormy Daniels defamation case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for U.S. President Donald Trump have asked a federal judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit by adult film actress Stormy Daniels, calling it an attempt to suppress the president’s free speech.

FILE PHOTO: Stormy Daniels, the porn star currently in legal battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a ceremony in her honor in West Hollywood, California, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

In a motion filed on Monday in Los Angeles federal court, Trump’s lawyers also said that Daniels, who has said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and was threatened to keep quiet about it, had actually benefited from the attention brought by her dispute with the president.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, called the motion “baseless and desperate.”

Daniels’ lawsuit, filed on April 30, centers on her account of being accosted by a man in a Las Vegas parking lot soon after she had agreed in May 2011 to talk about her alleged encounter with Trump to In Touch magazine.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said the man told her to “leave Trump alone” and, after looking at her infant daughter, said: “That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally at the Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

On April 17, Avenatti released a composite sketch purporting to depict the man.

Trump, who has denied having an affair with Daniels, responded the next day on Twitter: “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”

Daniels said the tweet was defamatory.

In Monday’s motion, Trump’s lawyers said the lawsuit was “designed to chill the president’s free speech rights on matters of public concern.” They cited a law in Daniels’ home state of Texas requiring that such a lawsuit be dismissed unless Daniels could provide “clear and specific evidence” for her claims, which they said she had failed to do.

They also said that Daniels had not been harmed, and had instead “capitalized” on the dispute with a nationwide tour of strip clubs “for which she admittedly is being paid at least four times her normal appearance fee.”

Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty last week to violating federal election law by paying Daniels $130,000 not to disclose information that would be harmful to Trump.

The White House denied any wrongdoing by the president after the plea, and Trump said on Twitter that Cohen made up “stories” to get a deal with prosecutors.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney

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