President Donald Trump likely had a free-speech right to make a Twitter comment disputing allegations by adult film actress Stormy Daniels, a federal judge said on Monday, indicating he was inclined to dismiss her defamation lawsuit against Trump.
The lawsuit centers on Daniels' assertion that a man approached her in 2011 in a Las Vegas parking lot and made a veiled threat after she agreed to talk about her alleged encounter with Trump to In Touch magazine.
Soon after Daniels released a sketch of the man she said threatened her, Trump, who has denied having an affair with Daniels, disputed her account on Twitter, saying: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!"
"The question is whether the tweet by the president is protected communication or political hyperbole and non-defamatory on its face," U.S. District Judge James Otero said at a hearing on Monday.
Otero cited certain protections from defamation Trump would have under the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free-speech rights.
"He's a public official, he's president of the United States, so it doesn't get much higher than that," Otero said. "It's free speech by a public official on a matter of public concern."
Otero stopped short of issuing a formal ruling on the request to dismiss the lawsuit.
The White House, after the plea, denied any wrongdoing by Trump.