Friday, February 16, 2018
How to Breach a Gag Agreement
On the heels of Dear Dr. LOVELESS Valentines HR Edition last week, the burning question this week is; does Stormy Daniels get to spill the beans on her alleged affair in 2006 with Donald Trump? Despite the fact that she was under a non-disclosure agreement? Maybe yes, and maybe no. It may depend on what the agreement actually said.
Quick recap: In 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported that porn star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep quiet about an alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump that took place in 2006. The WSJ story blew up again more recently. Ms. Daniels had talked about the alleged relationship before 2016, but she'd kept quiet since entering into the agreement.
This week, President Trump's personal legal counsel, Michael Cohen, disclosed that he (Mr. Cohen) is the one who paid the $130,000 to Ms. Daniels, out of his own funds, and that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign paid it, either directly or indirectly. (Yeah, I know.)
So now Ms. Daniels is saying she is no longer bound by the NDA in her agreement because Mr. Cohen violated it first. Is she right?
To be able to answer that question, we'd have to see the NDA. If it says only that neither party (or their representatives) will discuss the agreement or the situation that resulted in the agreement, with no exceptions, then she may be correct.
But many NDAs (including all that are drafted by me) make an exception for truthful disclosures that are required by law, or are disclosed pursuant to a subpoena or a government investigation. This is important because some say that the payoff to Ms. Daniels may have violated federal election laws. Although Mr. Cohen released a statement to The New York Times, it was apparently in connection with his formal response to a complaint about the payoff that was filed with the Federal Election Commission. The FEC complaint has been in the news since at least January, so that cat has been out of the bag for a while.
If Mr. Cohen made the media statement in connection with his response to an FEC investigation, and if the FEC investigation had already been made public by someone other than himself or anyone on the Trump team, and depending on the applicable exceptions (if any) to the NDA, then Mr. Cohen may not necessarily have breached the NDA. Which means that Ms. Daniels might still be bound by it, too.
Ms. Daniels claimed on Valentine’s Day to have a "Monica Lewinsky dress" that she is going to have DNA-tested. You will recall that the stained navy-blue GAP cocktail dress of Ms. Lewinsky is still considered one of the most famous articles of evidence in history. Ms. Daniels claims that the shimmering gold mini dress with a plunging neckline was kept in pristine condition after her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump at the Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Ms. Daniels is reportedly planning on having the dress forensically tested to search for any DNA that proves she isn’t lying about her tryst with Trump, including samples of skin, hair or … anything.
Common Sense Counsel: Be careful what you sign and be careful what you say. And save the evidence.
Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and can be contacted at email@example.com or 334-246-2901. Tommy’s Law Partner Robin Shea is Dr. Loveless and the Stormy Daniels story author.