A federal judge agreed this week to a request from Stormy Daniels to drop her defamation claim against Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, filed as part of her ongoing legal battle with the president.
District Judge S. James Otero, in a ruling issued Monday, allowed Daniels to amend her complaint to drop the allegation against Cohen. Otero wrote that he was dismissing the defamation claim “with prejudice,” adding that this meant Daniels “cannot simply re-litigate the defamation cause of action.”
The ruling centers on part of a lawsuit Daniels filed last year relating to a nondisclosure agreement she negotiated with Cohen, Trump’s self-declared fixer, as the 2016 presidential campaign approached its end.
Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 before the election to remain quiet about her claim that she had an affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied any affair. While Cohen and Trump initially issued denials relating to the payment, they later acknowledged that Cohen paid Daniels and that Trump repaid Cohen.
Daniels filed a lawsuit against Trump in March 2018 asking a court to declare the nondisclosure agreement void because he did not sign it. Daniels then added Cohen as a defendant, alleging that he defamed her by suggesting she was lying. It was one of two legal cases Daniels had filed against Trump; she also unsuccessfully filed a defamation suit against Trump, which Otero dismissed last October before ordering her to pay the president more than $293,300 in legal fees.
In November, she sought to again amend her complaint in the case involving Trump and Cohen, asking to remove the defamation claim against Cohen but still seeking a court order declaring the nondisclosure agreement invalid.
Attorneys for Daniels and Cohen both claimed victory in the wake of Otero’s ruling, which also dismissed as moot Cohen’s request that the defamation claim be removed.
“We asked that the minor defamation claim be dismissed and it was because the court sided with us and against Cohen,” Michael J. Avenatti, an attorney for Daniels, wrote in an email Tuesday morning. “The court already stated we received everything we asked for because Cohen and Trump were forced to admit we were right all along relating to the NDA.”
Brent H. Blakely, an attorney representing Cohen, said the “ruling dismissing Ms. Daniels’ defamation claim ‘with prejudice’ is a clear win for Michael Cohen.”
“Rather than fighting in court, Ms. Daniels and her attorney instead chose to abandon the case — the legal equivalent of running away,” Blakely said in a statement late Monday. “When a plaintiff’s claim has been dismissed ‘with prejudice,’ the defendant, in this case Mr. Cohen, is the prevailing party. No amount of spin on behalf of Ms. Daniels or her attorney can alter this result.”
Blakely noted that motions to dismiss the case remained pending. Charles Harder, an attorney representing Trump in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the Wall Street Journal first reported on details of the payout to Daniels early last year, Cohen dismissed the accounts before later acknowledging making the $130,000 payment. Trump publicly denied knowing about the payment to Daniels before later saying he reimbursed Cohen for something he called a “private agreement” to stop what he described as “false and extortionist accusations.”
While entering a guilty plea in federal court last summer, Cohen directly implicated Trump in his actions, saying that he worked “in coordination” with Trump to make payments before the 2016 election aimed at silencing two women alleging affairs with the future president.
The details he outlined matched the payments made to Daniels and to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model paid $150,000 by the National Enquirer’s parent company, which later acknowledged seeking to keep her story quiet before the election. Trump later argued that he “never directed [Cohen] to do anything wrong.”