Melania Trump Sues Daily Mail & A Blogger Over Stories, Using Peter Thiel/Hulk Hogan's Lawyer
from the gotta-sue-gotta-sue dept
Last week, we wrote about lawyer Charles Harder — most well known as the lawyer that Peter Thiel set up with the mission of destroying Gawker — sending out defamation threat letters on behalf of Donald Trump’s wife, Melania Trump. The main threat was to the Daily Mail, for posting a story about a book and magazine article that made some accusations claiming that Melania had worked as an escort via the modeling agency that she worked for. As I noted in the original post, while the story may be false, I didn’t see how defamation charges would stick, seeing as the Daily Mail was reporting (accurately) on what the article and book had published, and also noted some inconsistencies and questions about how factual the allegations were. In addition, I still don’t see how they could get to the “with actual malice” standard required for defamation of a public figure.
Either way, it appears that Melania and Harder have decided to go for it, and have filed a defamation lawsuit against the Daily Mail, filed in Maryland (for what it’s worth, in the comments to our last story, some accused me of being mistaken for using US defamation law, since the Daily Mail is in the UK — but since it was a US lawyer, it seemed fairly obvious that any lawsuit would likely be in the US — and that’s now been proven true). You can read the filing here.
Trump asserts that the The Daily Mail consciously doubted the truth of the claims in the article, but decided to publish it anyway, and that reporters there can’t simply rely on “unsubstantiated” claims and “an unauthorized book written by malicious and bitter ‘reporters’ who have never met or spoken to Ms. Trump.”
“The conduct of Daily Mail was despicable, abhorrent, intentional, malicious and oppressive, and thus justifies an award of punitive damages,” states the complaint.
Besides defamation, Trump is also suing for tortious interference, contending that the published statements have gotten in the way of her “numerous” licensing and endorsement deals.
The lawsuit not only targets the Daily Mail, but also a blogger by the name of Webster Griffin Tarpley who had written about Melania Trump as well on his Tarpley.net website. It may seem a bit odd to be going after a random blogger, though from the lawsuit, it seems like the case against Tarpley is at least somewhat stronger. Tarpley seemed to make a number of statements of fact that, if false, may very well be defamatory. What is a bit odd is that Harder had sent a threat letter to Tarpley, and he removed the blog post almost immediately and apologized. That doesn’t (in any way) get him off the hook if the article was defamatory, but it’s a bit odd to still sue after the removal. Separately, it’s at least marginally difficult to believe the claims, as stated in the lawsuit, that this random blog post on a blog almost no one has heard of could somehow “cause substantial damage” to Melania Trump’s “business, career, reputation and her actual and prospective economic relationships.” What business is not going to do business with Melania Trump because a random blogger made some false statements about her?
It will be interesting to see how this case progresses. At a first pass, it seems like the Daily Mail has a much stronger argument than the blogger, but it’s still bizarre that the potential First Lady to be would be spending time suing a random blogger for an article that, from the quotes in the lawsuit, could likely be seen as rhetorical hyperbole. And, really, all that the lawsuit does is bring more attention to the original claims about Trump. It’s possible that Tarpley was included just for jurisdiction purposes, to get the case into a Maryland court (notably: Maryland has a famously weak anti-SLAPP law, and efforts to improve it have failed). Still, the whole case seems odd, and seems like, once again, using the courts to bully publications.