A federal judge threw out Stormy Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump on Monday, essentially saying that Trump’s tweet referencing Daniels in April could be read literally, and did not constitute defamation toward her.
This is one of several suits Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, have filed against Trump and his associates. The suit in particular hinged on an April 2018 tweet that Trump posted in response to Avenatti’s release of a sketch showing the man who allegedly threatened Daniels years before (which was relevant to Daniels’ original suit against Trump and Michael Cohen).
Daniels’ defamation suit alleged that this tweet “attacks the veracity” of her story of what happened in 2011, and that as a result, she has suffered damages because Trump exposed her to “hatred, contempt and shame.” The problem is, as Buzzfeed News notes, defamation suits like this are pretty hard to prove:
Under laws aimed at encouraging free speech — known as anti-SLAPP laws, for strategic lawsuits against public participation — lawsuits filed alleging defamation can be dismissed early in litigation if they meet the laws’ standards. If the person being sued can show that they were speaking about a public individual regarding a matter of public concern, then the person who brought the lawsuit needs to establish that they can make out a “prima facie” case of defamation — which basically means, that if everything is how the person suing says it is, would that be defamation?
Los Angeles Federal District Judge S. James Otero ruled that Trump’s tweet was just “rhetorical hyperbole” employed against a person who had publicly positioned herself as a “political adversary.” Trump’s lawyer, Charles Harder, had maintained throughout the case that the tweet was a “non-actionable opinion, not a statement of fact about Ms. Clifford,” and Otero agreed.
Per his ruling:
The court agrees with Mr. Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States. The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.
Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti put up a characteristically irate defense against the ruling on Twitter Monday evening. First, in a now-deleted Tweet, he claimed that the ruling was “limited,” and that he planned to appeal.
If Avenatti and Daniels’ lose the appeal, they could owe Trump “reasonable legal fees. Avenatti framed it as losing a battle but not winning the war.
Trump’s lawyer claimed “total victory” in a statement:
“No amount of spin or commentary by Stormy Daniels or her lawyer, Mr. Avenatti, can truthfully characterize today’s ruling in any way other than total victory for President Trump and total defeat for Stormy Daniels.”
It remains to be seen how this loss will affect Avenatti’s potential 2020 Presidential campaign.