Stormy Daniels’s attorney is asking a federal judge in California for permission to depose President Trump and his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen about the nondisclosure agreement the porn actress says she signed to keep quiet about her alleged affair with the president.
In documents filed early Wednesday morning, Michael Avenatti said he was seeking to depose Trump and Cohen for no more than two hours each to find out whether Trump was aware of the agreement and whether he consented to it.
Daniels alleges she had sex with Trump in 2006 after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament, then signed the “hush agreement” in October 2016, less than two weeks before the presidential election, in exchange for a $130,000 payment. Cohen says he made the payment from his personal funds without Trump’s knowledge and without being reimbursed.
The porn actress’s lawsuit claims the agreement was invalid because Trump never signed it. In requesting depositions, Avenatti said he “intends to prove that the Hush Agreement did not have a lawful object or purpose.”
“Rather, the Agreement and the $130,000 payment made pursuant to the Agreement, was for the ‘purpose of influencing’ the 2016 presidential election by silencing Plaintiff from speaking openly and publicly about Mr. Trump just weeks before the 2016 election,” he wrote in a 31-page motion.
Avenatti is also seeking to issue no more than 10 document requests to Trump and Cohen “on various topics relating to the Hush Agreement.” A hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 30 before U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in the Central District of California, based in Los Angeles.
Attorneys for Trump and Cohen did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday morning. The White House has denied that there was ever an affair between Trump and Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Before the motion was filed, David Schwartz, an attorney and spokesman for Cohen, told “60 Minutes” that he was “sure” Avenatti didn’t want to depose Trump.
“This case is so illogical, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “You can’t make that happen by bringing a frivolous action.”
In a contentious CNN debate with Avenatti last week, Schwartz said Trump wasn’t obligated to sign the agreement, which contained a line for his signature, because he was a third-party beneficiary.
Trump and Cohen’s legal teams are seeking to force Daniels to settle the case in arbitration, which is required under the terms of the agreement. But Avenatti argues the matter can’t be resolved “without facts and evidence, and thus discovery.” He is seeking expedited depositions and document production, and a trial within 90 days of a judicial ruling on the motion.
The $130,000 payment, Avenatti alleges, amounted to an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign that further showed the agreement was unlawful. The arbitration clause, he wrote, “plainly is designed to prevent public disclosure of an illegal campaign contribution by mandating that disputes between Plaintiff and Mr. Trump be resolved in a confidential arbitration proceeding shielded from public scrutiny.”
The motion references the U.S. Supreme Court case Clinton v. Jones, which stemmed from Arkansas state employee Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. In that case, the high court ruled that the Constitution “does not offer a sitting President significant protections from potentially distracting civil litigation.” The landmark decision also noted previous cases in which “sitting Presidents have given depositions or testified at criminal trials.”