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In 2018, adult film actor Stormy Daniels brought a defamation lawsuit against then-President Donald Trump over statements he tweeted about her. A judge dismissed it that year and ordered Daniels to pay Trump’s legal fees.
After numerous appeals, Daniels was ordered April 4 to pay an additional $121,972 for Trump’s legal expenses, on top of the more than $500,000 that she was already ordered to pay.
The decision came the same day Trump was arraigned in New York on felony charges he falsified business records in connection with a hush money payment he made to Daniels in 2016.
While both court cases involve Daniels and Trump, law experts said the defamation lawsuit ruling is likely to have minimal, if any, impact on the criminal case.
As former President Donald Trump was being arraigned April 4 in a Manhattan courtroom on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records, a California appeals court delivered a victory to Trump in another case with a familiar plaintiff.
Also on April 4, the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered adult film actor Stormy Daniels to pay nearly $122,000 of Trump’s legal fees in a failed defamation lawsuit that Daniels brought against Trump in 2018, when he was still serving as president.
Daniels sued Trump over statements he tweeted in April 2018, in which he suggested that her comments about their alleged romantic relationship amounted to "a total con job." A judge dismissed the lawsuit later that year and ordered Daniels to pay Trump’s legal fees, calling Trump’s statement "rhetorical hyperbole" against a political adversary that was protected under the First Amendment.
Daniels appealed and the April 4 ruling sided with Trump.
This latest order is on top of the more than $500,000 that Daniels was already ordered to pay Trump attorneys before she appealed. Daniels has blamed the outcome on her former lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who is serving a prison term for defrauding her and other clients.
Trump was also ordered to pay some of Daniels’ legal fees, with $44,100 awarded in 2020 and $54,435 in 2022.
Trump’s felony charges in New York are separate. They are in connection with $130,000 that Trump paid Daniels through his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, to keep quiet about an alleged affair days before the 2016 presidential election.
Though the decisions came on the same day, law experts said the order for Daniels to pay is not expected to have much impact on Trump's criminal case.
As the focus was on Trump’s New York case, Trump and his allies made a flurry of social media posts drawing attention to the California appeal court’s decision.
"The 9th Circuit Court just awarded me $122,000 — over the $500,000 already awarded, from Stormy ‘Horseface’ Daniels!" Trump wrote on Truth Social April 4.
"BREAKING!!! the 9th Circuit just awarded Trump $121,962.56 in attorney fees from Stormy Daniels. Order just released. This in addition to the roughly $500k she already owes him," Donald Trump Jr.,Trump’s eldest son, posted on Truth Social during his father’s arraignment.
Many social media users pointed to Trump’s victory in the defamation lawsuit as an indication of his innocence in the New York case.
One Twitter user shared a story link about the attorney fees and said, "This certainly seems to undermine the POLITICAL WITCH-HUNT by DA BRAGG!"
The two cases have "zero connection," said Randy Zelin, a Cornell law professor and white collar defense lawyer and prosecutor. "It has nothing to do with his indictment. It is completely irrelevant."
Richard Klein, a criminal law professor at the Touro Law Center in Long Island, agreed.
"This is nothing whatsoever related to Trump’s criminal case in New York," Klein said. "This dealt with a lawsuit filed by her for defamation. She was suing him, claiming he had defamed her by a comment that he made. It’s a completely separate issue."
Although the defamation lawsuit decision might be fodder for discussion among Trump’s supporters, legal experts said it’s likely not something he can use as a defense in criminal court to back up his claims of innocence. Where the law is concerned, the cases — one civil and one criminal — are not connected.
"The fact that she was ordered to pay attorney’s fees in a defamation claim is not a defense to criminal charges for falsifying business records," former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told PolitiFact. "His attorneys can ask her about it when they cross-examine her at trial to show potential bias against Trump, (but) it is not a defense to any of the charges."
The charges the former president faces in New York strictly involve him making dozens of false business record entries, according to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Trump "went to great lengths to hide this conduct," Bragg said in an April 4 statement, "causing dozens of false entries in business records to conceal criminal activity, including attempts to violate state and federal election laws."
New York law specifies that falsifying business records rises to the level of felony (what Trump is charged with) when an individual’s "intent to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof."
Experts told us that even if the court allows Trump’s defense to bring up the defamation case, the government would likely argue it is irrelevant.
"The government isn’t hiding the ball," Zelin, from Cornell, said. "They’ll put Stormy Daniels on the stand and say, ‘can you please explain the circumstances of your loss in the defamation case?’ and that would be it. It has zero bearing on the (criminal) case."
RELATED: Trump’s indictment, explained: Falsifying business records, prosecutors’ challenges, and what’s next
RELATED: Donald Trump indictment: A roundup of PolitiFact’s fact-checks, stories and explainers
Court Listener, Stephanie Clifford v. Donald J. Trump (2:18-cv-06893), Updated April 5, 2023
The Associated Press, Stormy Daniels must pay $122,000 in Trump legal bills, April 5, 2023
Truth Social, Donald Trump post, April 4, 2023
Truth Social, Donald Trump Jr. post, April 4, 2023
Twitter search, April 7, 2023
Twitter post, April 4, 2023
PolitiFact, Trump’s indictment, explained: Falsifying business records, prosecutors’ challenges, and what’s next, April 4, 2023
The Washington Post, Fact-checking Trump’s comments and ‘truths’ on arraignment day, April 4, 2023
CBS News, Judge dismisses Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against Trump, Oct. 15, 2018
ManhattanDA.org, District Attorney Bragg Announces 34-Count Felony Indictment of Former President Donald J. Trump, April 4, 2023
NYSenate.gov, https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/175.10, Accessed April 4, 2023
Email interview with Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor, April 5, 2023
Phone interview with Richard Klein, criminal law professor at the Touro Law Center, April 5, 2023
Phone interview with Randy Zelin Cornell law professor and white collar defense lawyer and prosecutor, April 7, 2023