You’re not alone if you have a creeping sense of deja vu. A president under investigation by a special prosecutor gets caught up in litigation filed by a previous fling. The president lies publicly and then under oath in the course of a civil suit. The perjury is easily proved, and the House impeaches. That was the Paula Jones case, but it could well be the scenario that is about to play out today.
Stormy Daniels already has a defamation claim against President Trump based in part on his accusation that her story that she was threatened in a parking lot was false. (Trump says the claim of an affair was “false and extortionist.”) Now she has a splendid case.
No wonder Michael Avenatti, Daniels’s lawyer, is dancing a jig. He has long said he has evidence of the affair in addition to his client’s compelling story. Accusing someone of a crime is defamation per se, meaning no damages need to be proved. Avenatti will be entitled to depose Trump under oath to ask such nettlesome questions as:
- Did you have sexual relations with my client?
- Did you publicly deny knowledge of a settlement payment on national TV?
- Did you reimburse Michael Cohen for fronting the money?
- Did you break up the payments in monthly installments? Why?
- Have you made other payments to remain silent about adulterous affairs? How many? Did they all extort money from you, in your view? What are their names? How much did you pay out?
In addition, Cohen becomes a key witness in the defamation case. According to Daniels, Cohen strong-armed her into making a settlement. She, in other words, was the victim of a pressure campaign, not its instigator. Cohen would therefore need to answer questions that parallel inquiries for Trump. One or both might take the 5th — which many Americans would interpret as evidence one or both violated criminal campaign laws.
Avenatti has advantages over Robert S. Mueller III. Avenatti can needle Trump daily on TV, a tactic that already pushed Trump to lie publicly about his knowledge of the settlement. Avenatti can not be fired by Trump. Pursuant to the Paula Jones case, Daniels’s lawyer unquestionably has the right to depose Trump under oath.
There is delicious karma in this happening to Trump, who bludgeoned Hillary Clinton during the campaign for allegedly helping her husband to falsely smear women who accused the philandering president of sexual conduct. We reach karmic overload when we note that Trump has spent a lifetime threatening to and actually filing lawsuits alleging defamation.
One can fully understand why Melania Trump reportedly cried on election night. Whatever she knows or doesn’t know, she surely understands her husband’s propensity to lie and the font of potential legal trouble that could envelop him once in office. You do wonder, however, at what point Ivanka Trump, who claims the “right” to believe her father’s statements, however sketchy, will throw in the towel on her defense of him. Maybe it is time for Ivanka and Jared Kushner to go back to New York. Heck, maybe it’s time for Trump to escape as well.