Melania Trump Sues Daily Mail for Libel Over ‘Escort’ Claim

Melania Trump Sues Daily Mail
Photo by Anthony Behar/AP

UPDATEDMelania Trump, the wife of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, filed a libel lawsuit on Thursday against a Maryland blogger and the parent company of the Daily Mail over reports that she was once an “escort.”

Trump’s attorney, Charles Harder, said in a statement that the defendants “made several statements about Mrs. Trump that are 100% false and tremendously damaging to her personal and professional reputation.”

The lawsuit was filed in circuit court in Montgomery County, Md., against Mail Media and Webster Tarpley, who published the blog Tarpley.net in Montgomery County.

“These defendants made several statements about Mrs. Trump that are 100% false and tremendously damaging to her personal and professional reputation,” Harder said in a statement. “Defendants broadcast their lies to millions of people throughout the U.S. and the world — without any justification. Their many lies include, among others, that Mrs. Trump supposedly was an ‘escort’ in the 1990s before she met her husband. Defendants’ actions are so egregious, malicious, and harmful to Mrs. Trump that her damages are estimated at $150 million dollars.”

Harder represented Hulk Hogan in his lawsuit against Gawker Media, which eventually led to the site shutting down.

The lawsuit cites an Aug. 2 blog post on Tarpley.net that cited rumors that Trump was having an “apoplectic fit” after the “plagiarism incident” at the GOP convention and was refusing to return to the campaign trail. The post also claimed that she feared revelations of her time as a “high end escort.”

Trump “did legitimate and legal modeling work for legitimate business entities. Plaintiff was not an escort or a prostitute,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff did not have an apoplectic fit, apoplectic tantrum, nervous breakdown or mental breakdown, nor is she terrified or obsessed by fear about revelations from her past. Finally, Plaintiff never refused to return to the campaign trail or contemplated flight.”

The suit claims that Tarpley published the post while “consciously doubting the truth of the claims and this acted with actual malice.” Public figures generally have to prove actual malice, not just negligence, to prevail in a libel lawsuit.

Tarpley removed the blog post and published an apology, the lawsuit states.

The Daily Mail story was published on Aug. 20 in its British newspaper with the headline, “Racy photos, and the troubling questions about his wife’s past that could derail Trump.” Trump’s suit claims that the story was published on dailymail.co.uk “on or about Aug. 19,” with the headline “Naked photoshoots, and troubling questions about visas that won’t go away: The VERY racy past of Donald Trump’s Slovenian wife.” While the story also was published online, the Daily Mail said that its paper and online sites are run by separate editorial teams.

The Daily Mail story cited a book co-authored by a Slovenian journalist, Bojan Pozar, claiming that a modelling agency she worked for in Milan was more like a “gentleman’s club.” It also cited a Slovenian magazine claiming that Trump’s New York modelling agency “also operated as an escort agency for wealthy clients.”

Trump “did legitimate and legal modeling work for legitimate business entities and did not work for any ‘gentleman’s club’ or ‘escort’ agencies,” the lawsuit says.

The suit says that the Daily Mail “acted with actual malice.” The lawsuit says that Daily Mail received a written statement from Trump’s representative saying that the claims in the article were false, and that the book it relied upon “was apparently self-published and inherently unreliable.”

The Daily Mail posted a statement and retraction on their site on Thursday afternoon.

“To the extent that anything in the Daily Mail’s article was interpreted as stating or suggesting that Mrs. Trump worked as an ‘escort’ or in the ‘sex business,’ that she had a ‘composite or presentation card for the sex business,’ or that either of the modeling agencies referenced in the article were engaged in these businesses, it is hereby retracted, and the Daily Mail newspaper regrets any such misinterpretation.”

“The Daily Mail newspaper and MailOnline/DailyMail.com have entirely separate editors and journalistic teams.”

“In so far as MailOnline/DailyMail.com published the same article it wholeheartedly also retracts the above and also regrets any such misinterpretation.”

Tarpley also issued a response: “Melania Trump’s lawsuit against me is without merit. Mrs. Trump is a public figure actively engaged in the Trump for president campaign. We are confident that Mrs. Trump will not be able to meet her high burden of proving the statements published about her on my website were defamatory in any way. Her lawsuit is a blatant attempt to intimidate not only me but journalists of all stripes into remaining silent with regard to public figures. This lawsuit is a direct affront to First Amendment principles and free speech in our democratic society.”