The lawyer for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels argued Monday that her lawsuit over a 2016 nondisclosure agreement must be allowed to proceed in federal court because neither President Donald Trump nor his former personal attorney has faced "any true consequences or a meaningful inquiry into the truth" in the case.
In a new court filing, Michael Avenatti charged that recent attempts by Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to invalidate the lawsuit from Daniels are designed to protect the defendants from having to testify under oath about hush-money payments to women in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.
Avenatti, who has vowed to depose Trump and Cohen in the coming months, called on Judge James Otero of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to dismiss arguments to lift a stay in the case and allow the evidence-gathering phase to begin.
"Mr. Cohen is a criminal. And Mr. Trump is a co-conspirator. They entered into the Settlement Agreement and paid the $130,000 to benefit Mr. Trump's campaign and conceal information from voters in the 2016 election," Avenatti wrote in the filing.
"The public interest in continuing with this case is self-evident. Terminating the case now after all of the lies, deceit, and chicanery set forth above would be premature and would erode public confidence in the courts. Nor would it be legally proper," he wrote.
Cohen said last month that he acted at Trump's direction when he arranged hush-money payments to two women before the election, a statement that seemed to bolster Daniels' case. Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, said he did not have a relationship with Daniels and learned of the payments only "later on."
Requests for comment from Trump attorney Charles Harder and Cohen attorney Brent Blakely were not immediately returned.
Trump is waging legal battle as he contends with the threat of being deposed in multiple civil cases brought by women. While those cases have drawn less attention overall than the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, legal experts say they still pose a risk because the president could face perjury charges if he gives false testimony during a deposition.
Mueller recently told Trump's lawyers that he will accept written answers from the president about whether his campaign coordinated with Russia to gain an advantage in the 2016 election. Mueller did not rule out interviewing Trump about Russia's activities during the campaign or about whether the president has tried to obstruct the special-counsel probe.
As Avenatti fights to advance Daniels's case to the discovery phase, which would open the door to possible depositions, Trump is preparing to provide written testimony under oath in a separate defamation lawsuit brought by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos in New York state.
In a boost for Zervos, lawyers for Trump on Friday agreed to provide "written answers and objections" to formal written questions in her case by Sept. 28. Interrogatories in New York must be sworn or verified, meaning that false answers could open Trump to charges of perjury.
Zervos claims Trump groped and forcibly kissed her in 2007 and filed suit last year after he accused her of lying. Trump denies wrongdoing in the case.
Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, also is suing Trump for defamation after he described her claim that she was threatened not to speak about their relationship as a "con job."
Daniels filed suit in March in her main case, which seeks to void the nondisclosure agreement that forbids her from speaking about an alleged sexual relationship she had with Trump in 2006. The president denies an encounter took place, and the case has been under stay for months amid a federal investigation into Cohen's business activities.
Lawyers for Cohen and Trump said in a pair of filings Friday and Saturday that neither plans to enforce the agreement with Daniels or sue her for alleged violations. Both defendants suggested this renders Daniels's lawsuit moot and precludes the need for further litigation.
The moves raised questions about the future of Daniels' case and whether the court continues to have jurisdiction. Avenatti, who is entertaining a run for president in 2020, has vowed to depose both Trump and Cohen in a bid to reveal more information about efforts during the 2016 campaign to keep unflattering stories about Trump out of the media.
In a phone interview with The Washington Post, Avenatti said the defendants' filings change "nothing" about his plans to pursue depositions.
"This effort will go nowhere," he said of attempts to dismiss Daniels' case. "We will be responding accordingly. . . . We're marching forward."
Avenatti argued Monday that Trump and Cohen must declare that the nondisclosure agreement is void because it "is illegal on the ground that it was entered with the illegal aim, design, and purpose of circumventing federal campaign finance law" and "violates public policy by suppressing speech on a matter of public concern about a candidate for President of the United States, mere weeks before the election."
"Defendants have not admitted liability, or the truth of the Plaintiff's allegations," he wrote.
This article was written by Elise Viebeck, a reporter for The Washington Post.