An attorney for first lady Melania Trump argued in a lawsuit filed Monday that an article falsely alleging that she once worked for an escort service hurt her chance to establish “multimillion dollar business relationships” during the years in which she would be “one of the most photographed women in the world.”
The suit — filed Monday in New York Supreme Court, a state trial court, in Manhattan — against Mail Media, the owner of the Daily Mail, said the article published by the Daily Mail and its online division last August caused Trump's brand, Melania, to lose "significant value" as well as "major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her." The suit said the article had damaged her "unique, once in a lifetime opportunity" to "launch a broad-based commercial brand."
“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Trump’s behalf by California attorney Charles Harder.
Neither Harder nor the White House responded to requests for comment late Monday. Harder has represented several high-profile clients, including wrestler Hulk Hogan, who won a $140 million invasion of privacy verdict against Gawker last year.
The suit filed Monday did not spell out a plan by Trump to market her products during her tenure as first lady, but mentioned that her reputation had suffered just as she was experiencing a “multi-year term” of elevated publicity. The suit says the Daily Mail article “impugned her fitness to perform her duties as First Lady of the United States.”
A similar suit had been filed against Mail Media and a local blogger in Maryland.
A Maryland judge recently dismissed the case against the Daily Mail on jurisdictional grounds. On Tuesday, the law firm representing the first lady said she had settled with the Gaithersburg blogger, Webster Tarpley, who agreed to apologize and pay her a "substantial sum," said a statement from the law firm representing Melania Trump.
The firm, Harder, Mirell & Abrams based in Beverly Hills, declined to provide the settlement amount.
The article was eventually retracted with a statement from the Daily Mail that it didn't "intend to state or suggest that Mrs. Trump ever worked as an 'escort' or in the sex business." The original article provided denials from Trump's spokesman. But the lawsuit said significant emotional and economic damage was done and asks for compensatory and punitive damages of at least $150 million.
Mail Media, in Maryland court filings, responded that the article was acceptable because it "discussed allegations that had been disseminated about the then-potential first lady, and the impact even false rumors could have on the presidential race."
The new suit comes as Trump continues to shy away from the spotlight, taking an unusually low-profile approach thus far to her role as first lady. She has continued to live in New York, and has moved slowly to hire a White House staff.
Richard Painter, a White House ethics counsel under President George W. Bush and a critic of President Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his real estate and branding empire while in office, said Monday that he was troubled by the suggestion in the new suit that Melania Trump intended to profit from her public role.
“There has never been a first lady of the United States who insinuated that she intended to make a lot of money because of the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity of being first lady,” said Painter, who is participating in a lawsuit claiming that President Trump’s relationship with his company violates a constitutional provision barring presidents from taking money or gifts from foreign governments.