LA federal judge considers bid to delay Stormy Daniels suit against Trump

- President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who is the subject of an FBI probe, was told Friday  to file a declaration in Los Angeles federal court by next week stating if he plans to assert his Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying in a lawsuit filed by adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero gave Cohen until Wednesday to file the declaration, noting that Cohen is facing a possible criminal indictment following the recent FBI raid of his office, home and hotel room in New York. Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, said he would file a response to Cohen's declaration next week.

Otero did not immediately rule on a request by attorneys for Cohen and Trump to put Daniels' lawsuit on hold for three months so Cohen can focus on the FBI investigation. Daniels is suing to invalidate a "hush agreement'' she signed just before the 2016 presidential election to prevent her from publicly discussing an alleged affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006- 07.

At one point during Friday's hearing in downtown Los Angeles, Cohen's attorney, Brent Blakely, conceded the possibility his client might be indicted in the next three months.

"Things are moving fast,'' he said.

The attorney told the court that if his client is questioned in the Daniels case, "he would have to assert the Fifth to almost everything asked.''

The solution, he told Otero, would be to "hit the pause button ... get our files back (from the FBI)'' and evaluate whether there is any overlap in the two cases.

Federal authorities have not publicly stated the focus of the New York investigation into Cohen, but various media reports have suggested he's being probed for possible tax fraud or campaign finance violations, stemming in part from the $130,000 he has admitted paying Daniels as part of the 2016 "hush agreement.''

Avenatti has argued in court papers that Daniels' lawsuit should move forward because Trump and Cohen have provided no evidence to bolster their claim that a jury trial would be unfair to them. Avenatti also argues that Cohen has already spoken publicly about the case and a delay would be unfair to his client.

Otero pointed out that the terms of the non-disclosure agreement -- in which Cohen threatened Daniels with a $1 million fine for each time she spoke publicly about her alleged tryst with Trump -- has not deterred the performer from discussing the affair with the media.

"Your client has been on `60 Minutes' (and) `The View,''' the judge told Avenatti. "She has told her story and she continues to tell her story.''

Avenatti countered that the "harm'' to Daniels from the monetary threat "continues with each passing day,'' and while she has indeed appeared on the shows, "there are many things she hasn't done'' as a result of Cohen's threat.

Neither Daniels nor Cohen attended the packed hearing in downtown Los Angeles.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges in her month- old lawsuit that the "hush agreement'' is invalid because Trump never signed it.

Cohen has admitted paying Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket just before the presidential election and that he wasn't reimbursed. Trump has publicly denied any knowledge of the payment.

Otero also did not rule on a pending motion by Trump and Cohen to force the Daniels case into private arbitration. They contend the agreement Daniels signed requires any disputes to be handled in the closed-door proceedings.

Avenatti is opposing that move, saying the case should be heard in public.

White House press officials have repeatedly said Trump denies having had an affair with Daniels.

On Wednesday, Trump took his first direct shot at Daniels, accusing her of engineering a "con job'' by releasing a sketch of somebody she claims threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 to keep quiet about the alleged affair.

"A sketch years later about a nonexistent man,'' Trump wrote on his Twitter page. "A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for fools, but they know it!''

Along with his message, he retweeted a photo posted by a supporter showing Daniels with an ex-boyfriend, who bears a strong resemblance to the sketch Daniels and her attorney released Tuesday.

Daniels claims the man threatened her when reports first began to surface about her alleged affair with Trump. During a Tuesday appearance on ABC's "The View,'' she and Avenatti also announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the man.

Responding to Trump's Twitter post, Avenatti tweeted that the reward offer was being increased to $131,000. He also referenced the recent FBI raid of Cohen's offices, and suggested that Cohen and Trump are the ones engineering a "con job.''

Avenatti recently expanded Daniels' lawsuit, adding a defamation allegation against Cohen, who has accused Daniels of lying about the alleged affair and her allegation that she was threatened. He said Friday he plans to file a defamation allegation against Trump as a result of the president's comments this week about his client's truthfulness.

Cohen has filed papers alleging he could seek as much as $20 million from the actress for breaching the non-disclosure pact.

Avenatti told reporters Friday that Cohen rejected a settlement offer that would have ended the case before it ever reached court.

Earlier this week, former Playboy model Karen McDougal settled a separate lawsuit seeking to undo a 2016 agreement with the parent company of The National Enquirer that she claimed was preventing her from discussing an alleged affair she claims she had with Trump at roughly the same time as Daniels. McDougal contended in her lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, that she was misled into signing the agreement with American Media Inc., which is controlled by David Pecker, a friend and supporter of Trump. Her lawsuit alleged that Cohen was involved in the crafting of the agreement.

Up Next:

  • Popular

  • Recent

Stories You May Be Interested In – includes Advertiser Stories