Lawyers associated with President Donald Trump are considering legal action to stop 60 Minutes from airing an interview with Stephanie Clifford, the adult film performer and director who goes by Stormy Daniels, BuzzFeed News has learned.
“We understand from well-placed sources they are preparing to file for a legal injunction to prevent it from airing,” a person informed of the preparations told BuzzFeed News on Saturday evening.
It was not immediately clear what legal argument the lawyers would be making to support the considered litigation, and Trump and his legal team often have threatened litigation without following through on those threats in the past.
Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney who previously was a longtime lawyer for the Trump Organization, directed questions about the possibility of litigation to Larry Rosen, who Cohen told BuzzFeed News is “my attorney handling this matter.” Rosen — a partner in the firm LaRocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha — acknowledged his role in the matter generally but did not comment directly on the possibility of seeking an injunction.
BuzzFeed News has learned that CBS plans to air the 60 Minutes interview with Clifford next Sunday, March 18.
An action to try to prevent the interview from airing would be the latest in a flurry of developments in a case that began just before the 2016 election when Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 in return for her silence about a sexual relationship she allegedly had with Trump in 2006. At the time, Trump was under intense pressure over comments he’d made about his treatment of women in the run-up to the vote.
The Wall Street Journal revealed the payment — and Cohen’s route to making it — in January this year, but its details became public only on March 6 when Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, filed a lawsuit seeking to void what Avenatti now calls the “hush arrangement.”
The lawsuit followed a temporary restraining order Cohen obtained in arbitration — on behalf of EC, LLC, the company Cohen set up to facilitate the payment — in late February to keep Clifford from talking about the temporary restraining order, the 2016 payment, or the underlying “confidential information” the payment intended to protect.
In the suit, Avenatti alleged that the settlement agreement signed by Cohen and a previous lawyer for Clifford either was never valid because Trump had not signed it or otherwise agreed to its terms, which purport to bind Trump, or should be declared unenforceable because the agreement violates public policy. Avenatti included the settlement agreement as an exhibit to the lawsuit.
The next day, Avenatti and Clifford appeared in a photograph with Anderson Cooper, which Avenatti posted to Twitter — including “@60Minutes” in the tweet.
Cooper is a correspondent for CBS News’ 60 Minutes in addition to his CNN anchor job, and CNN later reported that Cooper had taped an interview with Clifford for 60 Minutes.
Asked for comment, Rosen — Cohen's lawyer — wrote, "We represent EC, LLC in connection with the arbitration pending in California, in which a TRO against Ms. Clifford was previously obtained." He made no specific comment regarding the possibility of seeking an injunction to stop the 60 Minutes interview from airing.
Cohen reportedly intervened previously, in 2011, to stop In Touch Weekly magazine from publishing an interview with Clifford in which she detailed the alleged relationship. Four former employees of the magazine told the Associated Press that Cohen had threatened to “aggressively pursue legal action” in connection with the planned story. The magazine, which then held back the story, published the full interview in February, following the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on the 2016 payment.
Any litigation aimed at stopping CBS News from airing Cooper’s interview likely would be an uphill battle, given protections for press freedom against prior restraints — most famously laid out in the Pentagon Papers case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the New York Times and the Washington Post could publish, over the objections of the Nixon administration, classified documents that detailed the history of US decision-making on Vietnam.
Complicating any effort to stop the airing of Clifford’s interview would be the fact that 60 Minutes is not a party to Clifford’s 2016 settlement.
The Supreme Court has a long history of opposing efforts to stop publication in advance, ruling in 1931 that prior restraint was an inappropriate way to deal with alleged press abuses: "Subsequent punishment for such abuses as may exist is the appropriate remedy, consistent with constitutional privilege." In other words, lawsuits — for defamation, for example — can follow publication.
Spokespeople for CBS News did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend.
"Why so many steps to keep the American people from learning the truth?" Avenatti wrote in an email Sunday morning. "And to think that all this time we all thought this was a democracy where we actually valued free speech..."
This story has been updated with information that CBS plans to air the interview on March 18.
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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