LOS ANGELES (CNS) - As expected, President Donald Trump's personal attorney filed a declaration in federal court in Los Angeles today saying he will assert his Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying in a lawsuit by adult-film actress Stormy Daniels due to a pending criminal probe in New York.
Michael Cohen and Trump are seeking to delay proceedings in the Daniels lawsuit while the federal investigation into Cohen continues in New York. A judge last week gave Cohen until Wednesday to file a declaration indicating his intent to plead the Fifth. Daniels is suing to invalidate a ``hush agreement'' she signed in 2016 over an alleged affair she claims she had with Trump in 2006-07.
``Based on the advice of counsel, I will assert my 5th amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York,'' Cohen wrote above his signature in the two-page declaration filed in Los Angeles. Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, is expected to file a response to Cohen's declaration shortly.
On his Twitter page, Avenatti called Cohen's declaration ``a stunning development.''``Never before in our nation's history has the attorney for the sitting president invoked the (Fifth Amendment) in connection with issues surround the president,'' Avenatti wrote.
``It is (especially) stunning seeing as (Cohen) served as the `fixer' for Mr. Trump for over 10 years.''
At a hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero did not immediately rule on a request by attorneys for Cohen and Trump to put Daniels' lawsuit on hold for three months so Cohen can focus on the FBI investigation. During the downtown Los Angeles proceeding, Cohen's attorney, Brent Blakely, conceded the possibility his client might be indicted in the next three months.
``Things are moving fast,'' he said. Blakely told the court that if his client is questioned in the Daniels case, ``he would have to assert the Fifth to almost everything asked.
''The solution, he told Otero, would be to ``hit the pause button ... get our files back (from the FBI)'' and evaluate whether there is any overlap in the two cases.
Another hearing is scheduled for May 7. Federal authorities have not publicly stated the focus of the New York investigation into Cohen, but various media reports have suggested he's being probed for possible tax fraud or campaign finance violations, stemming in part from the $130,000 he has admitted paying Daniels as part of the 2016 non-disclosure agreement. Avenatti has argued in court papers that Daniels' lawsuit should move forward because Trump and Cohen have provided no evidence to bolster their claim that a jury trial would be unfair to them. Avenatti also argues that Cohen has already spoken publicly about the case and a delay would be unfair to his client.
Otero pointed out that the terms of the non-disclosure agreement -- in which Cohen threatened Daniels with a $1 million fine for each time she spoke publicly about her alleged tryst with Trump -- has not deterred the performer from discussing the affair with the media.
``Your client has been on `60 Minutes' (and) `The View,''' the judge told Avenatti.
``She has told her story and she continues to tell her story.''
Avenatti countered that the ``harm'' to Daniels from the monetary threat ``continues with each passing day,'' and while she has indeed appeared on the shows, ``there are many things she hasn't done'' as a result of Cohen's threat.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges in her month-old lawsuit that the ``hush agreement'' is invalid because Trump never signed it. Cohen has admitted paying Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket just before the presidential election and that he wasn't reimbursed. Trump has publicly denied any knowledge of the payment. Otero also did not rule on a pending motion by Trump and Cohen to force the Daniels case into private arbitration.
They contend the agreement Daniels signed requires any disputes to be handled in the closed-door proceedings. Avenatti is opposing that move, saying the case should be heard in public. White House press officials have repeatedly said Trump denies having had an affair with Daniels.
Trump took his first direct shot at Daniels last week, accusing her of engineering a ``con job'' by releasing a sketch of somebody she claims threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 to keep quiet about the alleged affair.
``A sketch years later about a nonexistent man,'' Trump wrote on his Twitter page. ``A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for fools, but they know it!''
Along with his message, he retweeted a photo posted by a supporter showing Daniels with an ex-boyfriend, who bears a strong resemblance to the sketch Daniels and her attorney released previously.
Daniels claims the man threatened her when reports first began to surface about her alleged affair with Trump. Daniels' lawsuit also includes a defamation allegation against Cohen, who has accused Daniels of lying about the alleged affair and her allegation that she was threatened.
Avenatti said he plans to file a defamation allegation against Trump as a result of the president's comments last week about his client's truthfulness.Cohen has filed papers alleging he could seek as much as $20 million from the actress for breaching the non-disclosure pact.
Avenatti told reporters Friday that Cohen rejected a settlement offer that would have ended the case before it ever reached court.