President Trump’s personal lawyer obtained a secret restraining order last week to block porn actress Stormy Daniels from speaking publicly about Trump’s alleged extramarital affair with her, according to Daniels’ attorney.
The order came in a private arbitration proceeding in Los Angeles that Trump attorney Michael Cohen initiated to enforce a hush-money deal reached with Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. In return for keeping silent, Daniels received $130,000 from a Delaware shell company that Cohen set up.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that the president has “made very clear that none of these allegations are true.”
“This case has already been won in arbitration,” she said.
Pressed on whether Trump knew about the payment when it was made, Sanders responded: “Not that I’m aware of.”
Arbitrator Jacqueline A. Connor, a retired state judge, granted Cohen’s request last week for a temporary restraining order to muzzle Daniels, who was not given a chance to argue against it. Connor barred Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, from disclosing that the arbitration proceeding was taking place once she found out about it.
In apparent defiance of that order, Daniels, 38, filed a lawsuit against the president on Tuesday seeking to void the October 2016 hush-money agreement, saying Trump never signed it. The suit charged that Cohen, at the president’s behest, tried to “shut her up” to protect Trump in what her complaint called “a bogus arbitration proceeding.”
The order, dated Feb. 28, was first reported Wednesday by NBC News, which posted it on its website.
Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti of Newport Beach confirmed that it was Cohen who obtained the restraining order.
The legal wrangling cast light on the hardball tactics used by celebrities to enforce confidentiality agreements, including secret arbitration proceedings that can be tilted in favor of the famous person. The nondisclosure pact gave Trump sole discretion to decide whether the arbitration would take place under California, Nevada or Arizona law. Should Daniels be found to have broken the deal, she would have to return the $130,000 and pay Trump at least $1 million in damages.
“The agreements are not worth the paper they’re printed on,” said Avenatti, referring to the October 2016 documents signed by Daniels and Cohen, but not Trump. “They’re completely invalid.”
Lawrence Rosen, an attorney for Cohen, said the arbitrator had barred Daniels from filing the lawsuit.
“We intend to pursue our recourse in the context of the arbitration as agreed to by the parties and continue to categorically refute the claims” of Daniels and her lawyer, Rosen said.
The restraining order does not use the real names of Daniels and Trump. Instead, it refers to Daniels as “Peggy Peterson,” her pseudonym in the confidentiality agreement, and Trump as “DD,” short for David Dennison, an alias used for the president.
The nondisclosure deal required Daniels to give Trump every copy of every text and email she’d ever exchanged with him, along with all her photos relating to Trump. On NBC’s “Today” show, Avenatti declined to say whether she turned everything over. When anchor Savannah Guthrie asked him whether Daniels had a sexual relationship with Trump, Avenatti responded, “Yes.”
The legal maneuvering could harm Trump’s defense against allegations that the $130,000 payment to Daniels violated federal campaign finance laws. In complaints to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission, Common Cause, a nonpartisan ethics group, says the payment was made for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election and thus needed to be disclosed by the Trump campaign. Cohen has rejected that argument.
Susan Simpson, a white-collar-crime defense attorney in Washington, said the convoluted hush-money contract was unusual. It appeared to be drafted in such a way that Trump could deny knowing about it, which makes it hard for him or his lawyers to enforce it, particularly since the signature line for David Dennison was left blank. If authorities ultimately find the hush money payment broke federal disclosure laws on campaign spending, that alone could void the deal, she said.
“It’s a mess, this whole contract,” Simpson said.