A day after Melania Trump filed a lawsuit accusing a British news company of hurting her ability to build a profitable brand, her representatives issued statements saying that the first lady “has no intention” of using her public position for personal gain.
“It is not a possibility,” said statements issued simultaneously Tuesday by a spokeswoman for Melania Trump and a law firm representing her. “Any statements to the contrary are being misinterpreted.”
The lawsuit filed Monday in New York Supreme Court says that the first lady’s ability to sell “Melania” brand jewelry and other goods had been damaged at a critical time by a defamatory news story.
The suit alleges that an article published in August falsely claimed that she once worked for an escort service and that the assertion had hurt her ability to build “multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”
The suit against Mail Media, the owner of the Daily Mail, says the article caused Trump’s brand to lose “major business opportunities.”
The complaint said the article had damaged her “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “launch a broad-based commercial brand” during this period.
Neither the lawyer who filed the suit, Charles Harder of Beverly Hills, Calif., nor the White House responded to requests for comment.
The lawsuit did not detail a specific plan by Trump to market products during her tenure as first lady, but it said her reputation has suffered while she is experiencing a “multi-year term” of elevated publicity. The suit also said the Mail article had “impugned her fitness to perform her duties” as first lady.
A similar suit had been filed in September against Mail Media and a local blogger in Maryland. A Maryland judge recently dismissed the case against the 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.” The firm, Harder, Mirell & Abrams, declined to divulge the settlement amount.
The Mail’s article was eventually retracted with a statement in which the news organization said that it did not “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 cites significant emotional and economic damage 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 Melania Trump continues to avoid 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.
The language in the suit drew criticism immediately. Richard Painter, a White House ethics counsel under former 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 he was troubled by the clear suggestion in the suit that Melania Trump intended to make money from her public role. Painter said that as drafted, the suit “would appear to be an abuse of public office for private gain” by the Trumps.
On Tuesday, Painter said the new statements from Trump’s team “directly contradict the claims made in the complaint” and make the initial complaint misleading. “It should be immediately amended,” he said. Painter, a professor of legal ethics, 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.