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Stormy Daniels’ attorney seeks to depose Trump on payment

The Associated Press
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In this image from video, Michael Avenatti, attorney and spokesperson for adult film star Stormy Daniels, listens to a reporters' question during an interview at The Associated Press, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in New York. Avenatti is seeking to depose the president and his attorney. Avenatti filed the motion in federal court in California. In the documents he seeks to depose President Donald Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen about a $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 presidential election.

WASHINGTON — An attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels filed a motion Wednesday seeking to depose President Donald Trump and his attorney, dialing up pressure on the president over his alleged sexual encounter with her years ago.

If successful, it would be the first deposition of a sitting president since President Bill Clinton in 1998 had to answer questions about his encounter with Paula Jones.

Attorney Michael Avenatti is seeking sworn testimony from Trump and Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a $130,000 payment made to Daniels days before the 2016 presidential election as part of a nondisclosure agreement she is seeking to invalidate. Avenatti’s documents were filed in U.S. District Court in California.

Avenatti is part of a growing list of lawyers looking to question Trump. Attorneys for a former contestant on one of Trump’s “Apprentice” TV shows have said they want to depose the president as part of a defamation suit. And the president’s legal team continues to negotiate with special counsel Robert Mueller over the scope and terms of an interview with the president

Avenatti wants to question Trump and Cohen for “no more than two hours.” In the filing, he says the depositions are needed to establish if Trump knew about the payment, which he refers to as a “hush agreement,” and if he consented to it.

“We’re looking for sworn answers from the president and Mr. Cohen about what they knew, when they knew it and what they did about it,” Avenatti told The Associated Press.

While he noted that “in every case you always have to be open to settlement,” Avenatti said that “at this point we don’t see how this case would possibly be settled.”

In a statement to CBS, Cohen’s attorney David Schwartz called the filing a “reckless use of the legal system in order to continue to inflate Michael Avenatti’s deflated ego and keep himself relevant.”

The White House, which has said Trump denies the relationship, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, detailed her alleged 2006 tryst with Trump in a widely watched interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. She said she’d slept with him once, shortly after Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to the president’s youngest son.

She also said that a man approached her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 when she was with her infant daughter, and threatened her with physical harm if she went public with her story.

The interview prompted a new flurry of legal action, with a lawyer for Cohen demanding that Daniels publicly apologize to his client for suggesting he was involved in her intimidation. Daniels responded by filing a revised federal lawsuit accusing Cohen of defamation.

Cohen has said he paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket and that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction. Avenatti has argued that the “hush agreement” Daniels signed in October 2016 is invalid because it was not signed by Trump.

A hearing before Judge S. James Otero in the federal court’s Central District in Los Angeles is set for April 30.

As precedent, the motion notes that Clinton was deposed while in office in 1998 during the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit. That came after the Supreme Court ruled that a sitting president was not immune from civil litigation on something that happened before taking office and was unrelated to the office.

Jones’ case was dismissed by a judge and then appealed. The appeal was still pending when Clinton agreed to pay $850,000 to Jones to settle the case. He did not admit wrongdoing.

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