"He can't risk discovery": Experts say Trump’s lawsuit against Michael Cohen could badly backfire

“I can’t believe how stupid he was to have actually filed it," Cohen said, vowing to countersue Trump

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published April 14, 2023 9:08AM (EDT)

Michael Cohen and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Legal experts say former President Donald Trump's $500 million lawsuit accusing former attorney Michael Cohen of both revealing his confidences and "spreading falsehoods" about him "makes no sense."

Trump on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against his former longtime fixer in federal court in Florida, days after the former president pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsification of business records stemming from Cohen's hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection to the payments and testified that Trump reimbursed him, is expected to be a key witness in the trial.

The lawsuit accused Cohen of breaching his contractual obligations to Trump and spreading false information in public statements, books and media appearances, according to CNN.  

Cohen "chose to capitalize on his confidential relationship with (Trump) to pursue financial gain and repair a reputation shattered by his repeated misrepresentations and deceptive acts, fueled by his animus toward the Plaintiff and his family members," the lawsuit claims.

Trump's legal team claimed in the suit that the former president has "no alternative but to seek legal redress" to stop Cohen from making public statements.

"Mr. Trump is once again using and abusing the judicial system as a form of harassment and intimidation against Michael Cohen," Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis said in a statement to CNN. "Mr. Cohen will not be deterred and is confident that the suit will fail based on the facts and the law."

Trump's legal team previously worried that such a lawsuit could backfire, according to The New York Times. Trump previously withdrew a dubious lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James and was fined nearly $1 million for filing a frivolous lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other political enemies. The Times also added that the discovery process in the lawsuit could be potentially damaging to Trump as he faces multiple criminal investigations in New York, Georgia and D.C.

Cohen already threatened to counter-sue Trump on his podcast on Thursday.

"I can't believe how stupid he was to have actually filed it. He should have listened to the lawyers that told him 'it's a mistake'. He's now opened himself up to everything that he refuses," Cohen said, according to The Independent.

"The documents are stupid. They don't make any sense," Cohen said. "He's gonna get countersued, there's no doubt about that one, for what he's doing."

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Former Manhattan prosecutor Karen Friedman Agnifilo told CNN that Trump appeared to accidentally admit that at least some of Cohen's claims are true in the lawsuit.

"It's an interesting case here because, on the one hand, he's saying everything is false, right?" she said. "So if he was breaching attorney-client privilege, you're doing that by telling things that were said to you in confidence. But so, is he saying things that Michael Cohen is saying are true because I told him in confidence, and now he's breached that privilege? Or is he saying that the things are false? Because if they're false, why didn't he bring a defamation claim? So it kind of makes no sense."

Attorney Bradley Moss dismissed Trump's complaint.

"This is a PR stunt, arguably one as retaliation because Michael Cohen is now the star witness in the Manhattan criminal case," he told Axios.

"There may have been legitimate issues that Trump could have raised years ago," Moss added. "He could have sued to stop publication of the book, all kinds of things, but at this stage, he can't risk discovery on any of this stuff."

Loyola Law Prof. Jessica Levinson called the lawsuit a "classic Trumpian move."

"Trump uses lawsuits like stump speeches," she explained in an MSNBC op-ed. "Despite his claims that others weaponize the legal system against him for political purposes, that is precisely what Trump has done, and appears to be doing here. Filing a lawsuit, even one that may later be tossed out as frivolous, allows Trump to claim that what Cohen allegedly did to him is so egregious that he had to resort to using the legal system."

Levinson wrote that it was ironic that "it appears Trump is trying to hush up the person previously in charge of making his hush money payments," adding that the lawsuit primarily shows "how nervous Trump is about the criminal case pending against him."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Alvin Bragg Donald Trump Michael Cohen Politics Stormy Daniels