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The legal fight over an alleged hush agreement between President Donald Trump and adult entertainer Stormy Daniels will be paused for 90 days to allow the reality star turned politician’s lawyer to assert his Fifth Amendment rights.
Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen earlier this month asked U.S. District Judge James Otero to stay the matter after the FBI raided his office and home as part of a criminal investigation. The porn star, suing under her legal name, Stephanie Clifford, wants to invalidate an agreement that bars her from talking about her alleged affair with Trump.
Cohen has admitted to personally paying her $130,000 as part of a settlement, and argues that because the facts underlying her civil case and those of the criminal investigation overlap, a stay is warranted. On Wednesday, he filed a declaration with the court indicating he would plead the Fifth in Clifford’s lawsuit because of the ongoing investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney general for the Southern District of New York.
“[T]he significance of the FBI raid cannot be understated,” states Otero. “This is no simple criminal investigation; it is an investigation into the personal attorney of a sitting President regarding documents that might be subject to the attorney-client privilege. Whether or not an indictment is forthcoming, and the Court thinks it likely based on these facts alone, these unique circumstances counsel in favor of stay.”
Otero found that any deposition taken of Cohen would be “utterly useless” to the court, assuming he fully invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege, and his testimony is “indispensable” to the resolution of the lawsuit.
He also found that Clifford won’t be prejudiced by the stay, as she has already appeared on two nationally televised programs discussing the matter and “has not established that she has actually been deterred from speaking.” Meanwhile, Cohen would be unduly prejudiced and the public has an interest in ensuring the civil litigation doesn’t interfere with the criminal investigation. (Read the order in full below.)
Clifford’s attorney Michael Avenatti responded to the decision on Twitter on Friday afternoon. “While we certainly respect Judge Otero’s 90 day stay order based on Mr. Cohen’s pleading of the 5th, we do not agree with it,” he writes. “We will likely be filing an immediate appeal to the Ninth Circuit early next week.”
A status conference is set for July 27.
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