An attorney for Stormy Daniels pushed Wednesday to depose President Trump, an effort that could bring him a step closer to speaking under oath in a case centering on an alleged affair with the adult-film star years before he took office.
The request marked an aggressive step forward in the lawsuit that Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — filed against the president and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, seeking to break free of a deal reached shortly before Trump won the presidency in 2016. The nondisclosure agreement required that she remain silent in return for a $130,000 payment, which Cohen has said he paid out of his own funds.
Daniels’s attorney, Michael J. Avenatti, said the goal was to prove that Americans were told “a bucket of lies” by Trump’s White House and by Cohen. The White House has said that Trump denies having an affair with Daniels.
A potential deposition poses risks for Trump, who has a history of making erroneous claims, while Daniels herself is facing questions about her credibility in the wake of a widely seen interview on “60 Minutes.”
In a court filing, Avenatti asked to depose Trump and Cohen for no more than two hours each, arguing that the depositions, along with requested documents, are needed to help determine if the agreement with Daniels “had a lawful object and purpose.”
“We don’t think it’s a big stretch,” Avenatti said on “CBS This Morning.” “We are arguing that under the law, we’re entitled to the deposition.”
When asked if his side would accept a settlement in the case, Avenatti said they would consider it but added: “At this point, I don’t see how the case gets resolved short of the truth coming out, and the whole truth, for the American people.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined on Wednesday to address Avenatti’s latest filing, which comes as Trump is facing legal and political issues in two other lawsuits — one filed by a former “Apprentice” contestant who has accused him of groping her and one coming from a Playboy playmate alleging a consensual affair with him.
Daniels received the $130,000 payment on Oct. 27, 2016, just 12 days before Trump was elected. Complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission have argued that the payment was intended to influence the election, which Cohen has denied. Though Daniels had previously spoken to journalists about Trump, her “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night offered the most public airing of her allegations involving Trump and Cohen.
In the interview, Daniels said she was threatened by a man not long after she agreed to share her story with In Touch magazine in 2011. In her telling, Daniels was in a Las Vegas parking lot with her daughter.
“A guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,’ ” Daniels said in the television interview. “And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’ And then he was gone.”
Cohen, who did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, has previously denied threatening Daniels. His attorney, Brent H. Blakely, issued a letter saying that “Mr. Cohen had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident, and does not even believe that any such person exists, or that such incident ever occurred.”
White House spokesmen said this week that Trump denied Daniels’s claim of an affair and, echoing Cohen’s lawyer, that the president did not believe her allegation that someone threatened her.
Daniels’s interview also prompted questions from people who had been associated with her. Her former attorney, Keith Davidson, issued a statement after the interview aired saying Daniels’s account did not “represent a fair and accurate description of the situation,” although he did not specify what he took issue with.
Randy Spears, formerly an adult performer, who said he helped Daniels sell her interview to Bauer Publishing in 2011, said he was unaware of such a threat.
“She never told me she was being threatened in any fashion by anybody except Trump’s attorney saying we’re going to sue the s--- out of you,” Spears said in an interview.
Spears, whose real name is Greg Deuschle, said he still believed the incident could have happened.
“After the story was quashed, if she had an encounter in Vegas, I doubt she would have picked the phone up and said, ‘Guess what, Greg,’ ” he said.
Marc S. Harris, an attorney for Gina Rodriguez — Daniels’s former manager, who made contact with Bauer on her behalf — had no comment on the alleged incident.
Daniels was accustomed to being a target, according to Michael Vegas, a porn actor whom Daniels has cast in movies, though he said he had no direct knowledge of a threat in Las Vegas.
“She is a headstrong woman,” Vegas said. “I’ve been on set when she’s been dealing with stalkers.”
Avenatti, who has waged a publicity campaign across social media and news reports, tweeted Tuesday that “we are making progress on the assault/stalking that occurred around the same time that Mr. Cohen threatened @intouchweekly magazine in May 2011.”
Earlier this week, Daniels amended her lawsuit against Trump by adding Cohen as a defendant and arguing that he defamed her. Cohen has claimed he has a right to seek at least $20 million in damages from Daniels, who he accuses of repeatedly violating the nondisclosure agreement. A court filing also shows that he wants to push the dispute back into private arbitration.
Trump, meanwhile, already faces the risk of being deposed in another case related to his history with women. After Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” contestant, accused Trump of groping her, he called her and other accusers who spoke out during the campaign “liars.” Zervos sued him in early 2017 for defamation, and last week a New York judge ruled that her case could proceed.
“No one is above the law,” wrote Justice Jennifer G. Schecter.
Gloria Allred, the women’s rights attorney who represents Zervos, declined to comment on Avenatti’s move to depose Trump and Cohen. Allred told The Washington Post last fall that Zervos’s “case was not filed in order to take his deposition.” Still, she said, her team intended to depose Trump if the case did proceed, and Allred noted that lying knowingly about a material fact is perjury, which can lead to impeachment proceedings. “In our search for the truth, we certainly would want to take his deposition,” she said in an interview at the time. “And I always expect everyone to tell the truth when they’re under oath.”
Recent history shows the danger that a sitting president can face in an ongoing court case. It was false statements made under oath in a sexual harassment case that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.
Trump has been questioned under oath before. In 2007, he was deposed by attorneys for a reporter, Timothy L. O’Brien, who had written a book suggesting that Trump’s net worth was far lower than he had claimed.
Trump sued O’Brien and went through two days of questioning. A Post analysis of the deposition showed that O’Brien’s attorneys found 30 false or misleading statements Trump had made. When asked during the deposition if he had lied in his public statements, Trump responded: “I try and be truthful. I’m no different from a politician running for office. You always want to put the best foot forward.”