In its response, American Media said McDougal is suing over an ordinary editorial decision. Media organizations “have a First Amendment right not to publish, and cannot be punished for exercising that right,” the company said in its filing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
In a tweet, McDougal’s attorney, Peter Stris, said: “As we have learned through brave truth-tellers like Ms. McDougal, the tabloid went to great lengths to silence her and others, and they are now attempting to silence her again with the absurd claim that their own free speech was violated.”
The dispute between the company and McDougal is among three cases involving Trump’s sexual conduct that are playing out in court and the national media.
Stormy Daniels, an adult-film star, is suing the president to invalidate a confidential $130,000 deal she signed with Trump attorney Michael Cohen before the 2016 election. Cohen has alleged in a court filing that Daniels could owe as much as $20 million for violating the nondisclosure agreement.
And Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s TV show, “The Apprentice,” has filed a defamation suit against Trump. Zervos, who claims that Trump forcibly kissed and grabbed her in 2007, says Trump defamed her when he called her a liar.
Attorneys for the president filed papers Sunday saying they are appealing a New York judge’s decision to allow Zervos’s lawsuit against him to proceed. Trump’s attorneys have argued that he was expressing a political opinion and that he cannot be sued in state court while president.
In an opinion released March 20, New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer G. Schecter rebuffed their arguments, writing, “No one is above the law.” She cited court precedent that ultimately led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998 in finding that “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal court for unofficial acts.”
She also denied a request that the case be stayed while Trump is in office and wrote that Trump’s comments calling Zervos a liar “cannot be characterized simply as opinion, heated rhetoric or hyperbole.”
Trump’s attorneys, in their filing Sunday, reiterated some of their earlier arguments in appealing the case, including that the president is outside the jurisdiction of a state court and that Schecter “erred in denying a temporary stay of proceedings . . . because without a stay, this action will” impair Trump's abilities to fulfill his constitutional obligations.
In its response to the McDougal lawsuit, American Media also disputed the notion that the contract prevented McDougal from speaking. Monday’s filing includes a transcript of the hour-long interview McDougal did with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on March 22, in which she discussed a 10-month relationship with Trump beginning in 2006. Trump and his wife, Melania, had married in early 2005, and their son, Barron, was born in March 2006.
The company argued that the press is exempt from federal election law, citing dozens of court cases and decisions by the Federal Election Commission. The media company is represented by a team of lawyers including Lee E. Goodman, a former FEC chairman who stepped down from the commission in February.
Emma Brown and Frances Stead Sellers contributed to this report.