In 2018, a federal judge dismissed Daniels’ lawsuit against Trump, saying that the tweet that prompted the legal challenge was constitutionally protected speech. This week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that decision.
“I will go to jail before I pay a penny,” Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, tweeted Monday after the ruling came down.
The lawsuit started when Daniels went to a forensic artist to create a sketch of a man who had threatened her to stay silent about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
She claims that the man approached her in 2011 after she gave an interview with a gossip magazine. She was walking in Las Vegas with her infant daughter when the man allegedly told her to “leave Trump alone.”
“That’s a beautiful little girl,” the man is alleged to have said, looking at Daniels’ daughter. “It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”
Daniels and her then-lawyer Michael Avenatti released a sketch of the man in 2018. Trump responded by tweeting, “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”
Daniels’ lawsuit claimed that the tweet amounted to defamation but U.S. District Judge James Otero found that what Trump wrote “constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
NBC News reported that Trump praised the appeals decision, calling it a “total and complete victory and vindication for, and of me.”
But Daniels disputed Trump’s celebration, saying in a statement posted to Twitter that this defamation ruling has nothing to do with her original allegations that Trump had a sexual encounter with her while he was married — and that Michael Cohen, his lawyer at the time, paid her hush money to protect Trump’s presidential campaign.
She also stated that, while she believes Trump lied and did so to damage her character, she never wanted to launch the suit.
“Avenatti filed the lawsuit without my permission and against my wishes. Once it was filed, Trump’s lawyers overwhelmed Avenatti and I was left the victim of an attorney’s fee award,” she wrote.
Daniels went on to accuse Avenatti of bungling her appeals process, writing that he missed an important deadline to appeal the attorney’s fee award, a kind of legal remedy where one party pays the legal fees of another.
“Trump won yesterday ON A TECHNICALITY due to Avenatti’s failure to file promptly,” she wrote.
Incidentally, the amount that Daniels must pay to the former president, $300,000, is also approximately the amount that Avenatti stole from her when he was her lawyer.
Avenatti was convicted in February on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges for diverting $300,000 of book payments for Daniels’ memoir Full Disclosure. Avenatti convinced Daniels that her publisher was late on payments. He will be sentenced on May 24.
Avenatti was also sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for extorting Nike.