By Dareh Gregorian
Adult film star Stormy Daniels has lost her appeal in her failed defamation suit against Donald Trump — leaving her owing almost $300,000 in legal fees to the former president.
“I will go to jail before I pay a penny,” Daniels tweeted Monday after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her in the long-running case.
Trump hailed the ruling by the appeals court, which he often bashed as president, calling it “a total and complete victory and vindication for, and of me.”
Michael Avenatti filed the defamation suit against Trump in 2018, when he was Daniels’ lawyer. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said in a statement Tuesday that Avenatti had filed the suit “without my permission and against my wishes.”
“Once it was filed, Trump’s lawyers overwhelmed Avenatti and I was left the victim of an attorney’s fee award,” she added, calling it a “sad reality” that a “predator” like Trump “can openly brag about assaulting women and become president and be awarded money for his bad behavior.”
Michael Cohen, then a lawyer for Trump, paid Daniels $130,000 before the 2016 presidential election to remain silent about a sexual encounter she alleged she had had with the married Trump in 2006.
Trump has denied the encounter happened, and he did so again in his statement Monday. “As I have stated many times throughout the years, I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I ever have wanted to,” he said.
After news of the hush money payment became public, Daniels said she was menaced and warned to keep quiet about the allegation in 2011, when a man approached her while she was with her infant daughter in Las Vegas and told her to “leave Trump alone.”
She said the man then looked at her daughter and said: “That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”
Daniels and Avenatti released a sketch of the man in 2018, which Trump mocked on Twitter.
“A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!” Trump tweeted.
Daniels’ lawsuit called Trump’s tweet “false and defamatory.”
“Mr. Trump knew that his false, disparaging statement would be read by people around the world, as well as widely reported, and that Ms. Clifford would be subjected to threats of violence, economic harm, and reputational damage as a result,” it said.
A federal judge in California, however, sided with Trump and found that the tweet “constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
“The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement,” Judge James Otero wrote, finding that Trump was entitled to attorneys’ fees in the case.
The 9th Circuit upheld the ruling Friday, finding in part that Daniels had waited too long to challenge the lower court’s ruling. In her statement Tuesday, Daniels blamed Avenatti for the delay.
Daniels’ new attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Avenatti was found guilty this yearof wire fraud and identity theft for wrongly pocketing about $300,000 of the $800,000 advance Daniels was paid for her book, “Full Disclosure.”
He was also convicted in 2020 of extortion, wire fraud and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort in connection with threats he made against Nike, the sports equipment and apparel giant. Last year, a federal judge sentenced him to 2½ years behind bars for those crimes.
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.
Courtney Brogle contributed.