A lawsuit filed by an adult-film actress over an alleged “hush money” deal with President Donald Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen will be put on hold for three months because of a criminal investigation Cohen is facing, a federal judge ruled on Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero said it appeared “likely” that Cohen would be indicted in connection with the ongoing investigation, which led to search warrant raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room in New York earlier this month.
Cohen filed a declaration with the court on Wednesday saying he planned to assert his Fifth Amendment rights if asked to answer any further questions regarding the suit, which seeks to void an agreement that led to a $130,000 payment Cohen orchestrated shortly before the 2016 presidential election. The agreement uses pseudonyms, but appears intended to induce the porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and their ensuing communications.
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, argued that Cohen’s claims against self-incrimination were too broad, and the threat of an indictment too speculative, for him to try to stall the case on that basis, but Otero disagreed.
“The Court finds that there is a large potential factual overlap between the civil and criminal proceedings that would heavily implicate Mr. Cohen’s Fifth Amendment rights,” Otero wrote. “This is no simple criminal investigation; it is an investigation into the personal attorney of a sitting President regarding documents that might be subject to the attorney-client privilege. Whether or not an indictment is forthcoming, and the Court thinks it likely based on these facts alone, these unique circumstances counsel in favor of stay.”
The judge also called Cohen “the alleged mastermind” of the deal, making his testimony “indispensable.”
Avenatti said he was likely to appeal the decision in a bid to get the case moving forward.
“While we certainly respect Judge Otero’s 90 day stay order based on Mr. Cohen’s pleading of the 5th, we do not agree with it,” Avenatti wrote on Twitter. “We will likely be filing an immediate appeal to the Ninth Circuit early next week. Justice delayed is justice denied.”