Stormy Daniels’ lawyer seeks to question President Donald Trump under oath about alleged sexual encounter with porn star
Michael Avenatti is seeking sworn testimony from Trump and Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a US$130,000 payment made to Daniels days before the 2016 presidential election
A lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels filed a motion on Wednesday seeking to depose US President Donald Trump and his lawyer, dialling up pressure on the president over his alleged sexual encounter with her years ago.
If successful, it would be the first deposition of a sitting president since President Bill Clinton in 1998 had to answer questions about his encounter with Paula Jones.
Michael Avenatti is seeking sworn testimony from Trump and Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a US$130,000 payment made to Daniels days before the 2016 presidential election as part of a non-disclosure agreement she is seeking to invalidate. Avenatti’s documents were filed in US District Court in California.
Avenatti is part of a growing list of lawyers looking to question Trump. Lawyers for a former contestant on one of Trump’s Apprentice TV shows have said they want to depose the president as part of a defamation suit. And the president’s legal team continues to negotiate with special counsel Robert Mueller over the scope and terms of an interview with the president.
Avenatti wants to question Trump and Cohen for “no more than two hours”. In the filing, he says the depositions are needed to establish if Trump knew about the payment, which he refers to as a “hush agreement,” and if he consented to it.
“We’re looking for sworn answers from the president and Mr Cohen about what they knew, when they knew it and what they did about it,” Avenatti said.
While he noted that “in every case you always have to be open to settlement,” Avenatti said that “at this point we don’t see how this case would possibly be settled”.
In a statement to CBS, Cohen’s lawyer David Schwartz called the filing a “reckless use of the legal system in order to continue to inflate Michael Avenatti’s deflated ego and keep himself relevant”.
The White House, which has said Trump denies the relationship, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, detailed her alleged 2006 tryst with Trump in a widely watched interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday. She said she’d slept with him once, shortly after Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to the president’s youngest son.
She also said that a man approached her in a Las Vegas car park in 2011 when she was with her infant daughter, and threatened her with physical harm if she went public with her story.
The interview prompted a new flurry of legal action, with a lawyer for Cohen demanding that Daniels publicly apologise to his client for suggesting he was involved in her intimidation. Daniels responded by filing a revised federal lawsuit accusing Cohen of defamation.
Cohen has said he paid the US$130,000 out of his own pocket and that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction. Avenatti has argued that the “hush agreement” Daniels signed in October 2016 is invalid because it was not signed by Trump.
A hearing before Judge S. James Otero in the federal court’s Central District in Los Angeles is set for April 30.
As precedent, the motion notes that former President Bill Clinton was deposed while in office in 1998 during the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit. That came after the Supreme Court ruled that a sitting president was not immune from civil litigation on something that happened before taking office and was unrelated to the office.
Jones’ case was dismissed by a judge and then appealed. The appeal was still pending when Clinton agreed to pay US$850,000 to Jones to settle the case. He did not admit wrongdoing.