First Amendment

Trump's 'con job' tweet wasn't defamation of Stormy Daniels, federal judge rules

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Donald Trump

President Donald Trump. Photo by Evan El-Amin/

Updated: A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that a tweet by President Donald Trump was “rhetorical hyperbole” that didn’t defame Stormy Daniels.

U.S. District Judge James Otero tossed Daniels’ defamation suit against Trump and ordered her to pay Trump’s legal fees, report Politico, the Washington Post, Courthouse News Service and the New York Times.

Daniels says she had an intimate relationship with Trump; he has denied the allegation. Daniels has said that she was threatened by a man in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 after she reached a magazine agreement to tell her story about Trump. In April, she and her lawyer Michael Avenatti released a sketch of the man, based off her recollection, according to Daniels’ suit.

Trump tweeted in response to the release: “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)?”

Daniels then sued Trump for defamation over his tweet.

In his Oct. 15 opinion, Otero said the tweet is an expression of opinion protected by the First Amendment. Otero said the tweet was “a one-off rhetorical comment” rather than a sustained attack, and he said it constituted “rhetorical hyperbole”—extravagant exaggeration employed for rhetorical effect.

“Specifically, Mr. Trump’s tweet displays an incredulous tone, suggesting that the content of his tweet was not meant to be understood as a literal statement about plaintiff,” Otero wrote. “Instead, Mr. Trump sought to use language to challenge plaintiff’s account of her affair and the threat that she purportedly received in 2011.”

Trump also tweeted in the context of Daniels presenting herself as a political adversary, and Trump’s tweet “served as a public rejoinder” to Daniels’ allegations, Otero wrote.

“If this court were to prevent Mr. Trump from engaging in this type of ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ against a political adversary, it would significantly hamper the office of the president,” Otero wrote. “Any strongly worded response by a president to another politician or public figure could constitute an action for defamation. This would deprive this country of the ‘discourse’ common to the political process.

“In short, should plaintiff publicly voice her opinions about Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump is entitled to publicly voice non-actionable opinions about plaintiff. To allow plaintiff to proceed with her defamation action would, in effect, permit plaintiff to make public allegations against the president without giving him the opportunity to respond. Such a holding would violate the First Amendment.”

Otero said the case is governed by the law in Texas, where Daniels lives. Texas has an anti-SLAPP law that allows for early dismissal of cases involving statements on matters of public concern. The law also allows for an award of attorney fees when a party wins early dismissal.

Daniels’ lawyer, Avenatti, is appealing the decision. Daniels’ suit seeking to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement concerning Trump is still pending.

After the verdict was handed down on Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con!”

Updated at 1:49 p.m. to add Trump’s response tweet.

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