Claiming that a defamatory article deprived her of the chance to launch a lucrative brand of clothing, shoes, jewelry and perfume, First Lady Melania Trump is suing a British newspaper, even though the article was later retracted.
Accusing the London tabloid of making it almost impossible to take advantage of “major business opportunities” available “for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world”, the $150 million suit against the publisher of the Daily Mail also accused the publisher of causing “tremendous harm” to her reputation.
She has a “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories.” Melania Trump also claims she could have sold “apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance”, says President Donald Trump’s spouse.
The complaint prompted questions anew about whether President Donald Trump and his family understand the ethical conflicts created by mixing public service with commercial opportunities and the suit was filed in state court in Manhattan on Monday after being dismissed by a Maryland judge last week.
“The suit makes clear she believes she was damaged because she can’t make as much money off her position as First Lady,” said Richard Painter, who served as White House ethics counsel under President George W. Bush. “It’s a clear violation of the standards of professional conduct for federal employees to have a president allowing his wife to benefit financially from his office.”
The suggestions that the former model is trying to monetize her role were refuted by one of Melania Trump’s lawyers. “The First Lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so,” attorney Matthew Blackett said in an e-mailed statement. “It is not a possibility. Any statements to the contrary are being misinterpreted.”
The president should divest his holdings, said most ethics experts, including the agency that monitors such matters in the federal government. Instead, Trump has pledged no new foreign deals during his term and has turned over management of his company, the Trump Organization, to his two elder sons. He has no legal or moral obligation to do more, the president has said.
An article that said her “well-publicized professional modeling career in the 1990s was a ruse” to cover her work as an “elite escort” in the sex trade is the accusation that U.S. First Lady is putting on the newspaper in her libel case.
A story which cited allegations about the escort service published earlier in a Slovenian magazine was the source of the suit by Melania Trump against Mail Media Inc. in September. After the website and Webster Tarpley, a blogger who also reported the claims, issued retractions, the former model sued in state court in Maryland.
A judge allowed her claims against Tarpley to proceed because he lived there and concluded Trump didn’t have the right to sue the newspaper company in Maryland.
John Diamond, a media law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law said that business opportunities because of the retracted article to recover under the state’s defamation law, in the New York libel case, the First Lady may not need to prove she lost business opportunities.
“If it turns out that she does have to prove people aren’t purchasing her goods because of the prostitution story, that may be a challenge because there may be political reasons people are refusing” to buy her jewelry and clothes, the professor added.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)