National News

Daniels Sues, Saying Cohen Colluded With Her Former Lawyer

Posted June 6, 2018 7:14 p.m. EDT
Updated June 6, 2018 7:18 p.m. EDT

The pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford sued President Donald Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, and her own former lawyer Wednesday, making public a set of text messages discussing efforts to quash the story of her alleged affair with Trump as it emerged early this year.

The suit, filed in California state court, accused Keith M. Davidson, the Beverly Hills lawyer who represented Clifford in 2016, of violating attorney-client privilege. It also said he withheld relevant communications from her and her current lawyer, Michael Avenatti.

The suit accused Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, of helping and encouraging Davidson to breach his professional duties of confidentiality and loyalty to his client this year. In 2016, Cohen paid her $130,000 shortly before the election to keep quiet about the alleged affair.

The legal challenge is at least the third that Avenatti has brought in the past three months on behalf of Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels. The suit intensifies the legal pressures on Cohen, who has been a subject of Clifford’s earlier complaints, and brings Davidson directly into the fray of civil litigation for the first time.

In April, Clifford sued Cohen and Trump for defamation, and in March, she sued to be released from the nondisclosure agreement. That suit has been delayed as a federal corruption investigation in New York scrutinizes Cohen and the $130,000.

Cohen, who has repeatedly denied the affair on Trump’s behalf, did not respond to an inquiry made through his lawyers.

Dave Wedge, a spokesman for Davidson, called the suit “outrageously frivolous” and said Clifford’s filing constituted a “full and complete waiver of attorney-client privilege” — leaving Davidson, who has limited his public comments this year, to speak freely.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday, Davidson put Trump’s interests ahead of Clifford’s in his frequent communications with Cohen. The men exchanged 17 text messages on Jan. 17 this year, when In Touch magazine published excerpts from a 2011 interview in which Clifford detailed her alleged encounters with Trump. That piece was the first confirmation from Clifford of the alleged affair, which had been reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In those exchanges, according to the complaint, Cohen told Davidson that he had Clifford “tentatively scheduled for Hannity tonight,” referring to the Fox News program hosted by Sean Hannity — who was months later revealed to be another client of Cohen’s.

Two weeks later, Cohen released a statement that denied the affair and was signed by Clifford, who later said she felt forced to lie.

In January, Cohen also wrote to Davidson that “the wise men all believe the story is dying and don’t think it’s smart for her to do any interviews.” After Davidson agreed “100 percent,” Cohen replied, “Thanks pal.”

Other text messages accompanying the court filing showed that in early March — three days after Cohen had secretly obtained a temporary restraining order to silence Clifford — Cohen indicated to Davidson that he was talking with the first lady, Melania Trump.

Avenatti on Wednesday called the private messages evidence that “prior denials by Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen relating to what Mr. Trump knew, and about the honesty of my client, were absolute lies.” He argued it was implausible that Cohen would have arranged a media appearance for Clifford without Trump’s knowledge, or that Cohen would have withheld details of his efforts to silence Clifford from the Trump family.

In late April, Trump, who had weeks earlier denied knowing about the payment to Clifford, confirmed that Cohen had represented him in the agreement.

Two lawyers for Davidson, Michael Padula and Gene Rossi, said Wednesday that they saw nothing objectionable in the text messages. “The idea that an attorney isn’t going to have some communication with the other side is absurd,” Padula said. “Mr. Avenatti characterizes it that they should be adversarial and mean, but that isn’t always the case.”

Davidson’s past client list has put him in the middle of the sex-tape cases of the “Austin Powers” actor Verne Troyer, the wrestler Hulk Hogan and the onetime Playboy model and MTV host Tila Tequila. The lawyer’s tactics have come under scrutiny before, including in 2010, when the California State Bar suspended his law license for 90 days for four counts of misconduct.

Clifford’s lawsuit seeks more than $200,000 as well as punitive damages. It calls for Davidson to share all of his files on Clifford with her, and for Cohen to disclose any recordings of phone conversations he had with Davidson relating to Clifford. In an April raid of Cohen’s home and office, the FBI seized numerous recordings.

In a separate legal agreement months before the 2016 election, Davidson represented another woman who said she had had an affair with Trump — the former Playboy model Karen McDougal. In March this year, McDougal also sued to be released from her nondisclosure agreement, alleging that Davidson had not honestly represented her interests and had, per reporting by The New York Times, secretly communicated with Cohen, who was not a party to her contract. In April, she was freed from that agreement.