Lawsuit over Melania Trump escort reports raises disturbing questions
Disclaimer: I wish publishing this article wasn't necessary, and nothing in it should be construed as an attack on Melania Trump. In fact, I have serious doubts about whether she is in any meaningful sense the author of the legal actions ascribed to her. This article uses phrases such as "Melania sued" and "Melania's lawsuit" only for the sake of simplicity.
Furthermore, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that I don't think there's anything wrong with sex work and do think it should be fully decriminalized.
Content warning: rape; domestic abuse; probably-consensual sex acts some readers will find squicky.
In August of last year, while many pundits were ridiculing Nate Silver for suggesting Donald Trump actually had a chance of winning the election, the website DailyMail.com published an article reporting on allegations that Melania Trump had once worked as an escort. The article has since disappeared from the website because Melania (or lawyers representing her) sued them for libel.
However, I've managed to obtain a copy of the article, and I'm going to quote a chunk of it. It will be important context for the rest of this post. After describing Donald and Melania's alleged first meeting in 1998, the article says:
Just as it’s now claimed Melania moved to New York in 1995 — not 1996 as she still says — based on a set of highly-charged, lesbian-themed, nude photographs of her said to have been taken in New York in 1995, which re-surfaced last week — it is also now being suggested the Trumps may have got confused about the date of their first meeting.
But why is the exact date so significant?
According to a Slovenian journalist who has recently published an unauthorised biography of Melania, the Kit Kat meeting was staged — an elaborate act for the benefit of the public.
Bojan Pozar claims the pair first met three years earlier, in 1995, around the time of the nude photo shoot. ‘During my research I was told that they met in 1995,’ says Pozar, a journalist who is co-author of Melania Trump — The Inside Story: From A Slovenian Communist Village To The White House.
‘I don’t know what sort of relationship they had but I do know they were in touch from my conversations with modelling agents while researching the book. After 1995, Trump helped Melania with her modelling career. The agents said: “Trump’s money talks.” The first cover Melania did was for the April 1996 edition of Spanish Harper’s Bazaar.
‘The years between 1995 and 1998 are the most secret years of Melania Trump. She’d had a number of boyfriends in Slovenia, but we did not find anyone involved with Melania romantically during these years — it is very strange.’
If this is the case, it casts an even more troubling complexion on the work visa scandal concerning Melania that refuses to go away. Trump’s uncompromising stance on immigration is, after all, very well known. It has been suggested by commentators in America that Melania did not have a work visa when she undertook the early nude modelling assignment in 1995.
Comments she made earlier this year that while working in New York she travelled to Slovenia ‘to stamp the visa,’ appear inconsistent with someone holding a U.S. H-1B work visa (who would not have to do this) and more suggestive of someone holding a tourist visa.
This month, 46-year-old Melania published a statement on Twitter saying she has ‘at all times been in full compliance with the immigration laws of this country’, but she is yet to produce documentary evidence that she was in possession of the correct legal paperwork.Claims that the 1998 meeting was a ‘ruse’ are also made in another book, published this year, and available on Amazon. The title is decidedly unsavory: From The Whore House To The White House: The True Story Of Melania Trump.
The book makes a number of unpleasant claims — such as one that a modelling agency Melania worked for in Milan before moving to New York was ‘something like a gentleman’s club’.
The claims are all unsubstantiated and the Mail could find no trace of the book’s author, Adam Schlecter. It is quite possibly the work of an enemy of Trump — there are many...
But the rumour mill does not stop whirring there. Earlier this month, a Slovenian magazine, Suzy, published a front page story claiming Melania’s modelling agency in New York, run by New York entrepreneur, Paolo Zampolli, also operated as an escort agency for wealthy clients.
‘On the one hand they [the girls] pretended to be models, but they principally earned money as elite escorts,’ the magazine article claimed. ‘They even had two composite cards (presentation cards held by each model) — with two photos and basic information such as measurements, eye and hair colour, and agency details.
‘One composite card was for the modelling business, and the other one for the sex business, as it stated whether they prefer the older men and described their abilities in the bedroom.’
The article added: ‘What Melania’s [composite card] looked like only the people involved know, but it is no coincidence she got a rich husband.’
This week the Mail spoke to the author of the piece, under the condition of anonymity. He insisted the seemingly fantastical story was correct, but all he would say to corroborate it was the information came from sources in America.
While the Daily Mail is known for its sensationalism, it looks like they weren't simply making things up here, but rather were accurately reporting what their sources told them—whether or not their sources were being truthful.
Furthermore, there appear to be good reasons to think the part of the story about Melania violating US immigration laws is true. One of Melania's former roommates confirmed that she was in the US in 1995 in an interview with Politico reporter Julia Ioffe, and the quotes where Melania appears to admit to illegally working on a tourist visa are on video tape. According to Politico, these kinds of immigration violations were common in the modeling industry in the 90s.
I have a copy of Pojar's book, and it cites two sources by name to support its claim that the official story about how the Trumps met is not the real story. It also gives an account of Melania's years as a model in New York that sounds a hell of a lot like a euphemistic account of an escorting career—"dating" rich men and making up to $1500 per day while simultaneously being frustrated with her inability to get kinds of modeling work she really wanted.
On top of all this, my own instinct is that whenever I hear about a celebrity abusing libel laws to suppress embarrassing rumors about themselves, I tend to assume the rumors are true. Most people realize that the smart way to deal with false rumors is to ignore them, especially when you're famous.
If that was all there was to the story, though, I wouldn't be bothering with it. I personally don't care if Melania was an escort—in fact I don't think there's anything wrong with sex work and it should be decriminalized. And the hypocrisy angle falls a bit flat given that even without this story it would be perfectly obvious that her husband's stance on immigration has nothing to do with immigration per se but is instead an expression of thinly-veiled racism.
Even the libel angle wouldn't be terribly interesting, if Melania had merely sued the Daily Mail in a British court. British libel law is an internationally famous dumpster fire. If Melania had merely sued a British publication in a British court for repeating nasty rumors about her, she'd be joining the ignominious company of the Church of Scientology and anti-vax frauster Andrew Wakefield, but there wouldn't be much of a story beyond that.
However, there are some twists to the story. First of all, as was recently widely reported, court filings by Melania's lawyers appear to imply that she was hoping to cash in on her husband's presidency to the tune of $150 million dollars. If this is true, it's hard to imagine she could have made these plans without her husband's knowledge, and I say that's one more count to put in his articles of impeachment.
Second, an even more disturbing and under-reported angle to the story is that Melania's original lawsuit didn't just target the Daily Mail. It also targeted a Maryland blogger named Webster Tarpley. Tarpley had written a blog post claiming that there were rumors circulating in Manhattan about Melania being apoplectic after it had been revealed that her RNC speech had been plagiarized. Supposedly, she had been refusing to return to the campaign trail. Tarpley's post also claimed that Melania was rumored to have been an escort, rumored to be obsessed with those rumors, and rumored to be afraid her former clients might out her.
The lawsuit against Tarpley hasn't gotten much attention in the more recent coverage of Melania's lawsuit against the Mail, because the lawsuit was settled out of court, with Tarpley agreeing to take down the blog post, apologize, and pay Melania what her spokesperson claimed was a "substantial sum", whatever that means. Interestingly, the apology was written in a way that seems to imply the rumors really were in circulation, and only admitted that Tarpley had failed to fact-check them.
All this makes it look an awful lot like the lawsuit had no merit, and was in fact a shameful case of a wealthy individual using their money to bully a much weaker enemy into submission. Indeed, "no merit" feels like an understatement. It looks an awful lot like this lawsuit was in fact concocted by the kind of dipping stick who goes around talking about how you can't shout "fire" in a crowded theater.
The use of gender-neutral language in the above paragraph is deliberate. I believe we should be very careful about making any assumptions about Melania's role in the lawsuit. Some of the reasons for this will be obvious by the end of this article. One thing I will point out right away, though: Melania and her husband Donald Trump have a secret prenuptial agreement, and given that his also-still-secret prenup with his second wife, Marla Maples, appears to have a confidentiality clause, who on Earth knows what sort of exploitative terms Melania's agreement has.
Because here's where it gets really bad. Melania's husband, Donald Trump, is currently doing everything he can to burn American democracy to the ground. And libel lawsuits may yet turn out to be one of the ways he does so. On the campaign trail he talked about "opening up" libel laws, tried to sue Univision for defamation, and threatened numerous media organizations with lawsuits, and even threatened to sue women for accusing him of assaulting them, even though he's been caught bragging about assaulting women on tape.
And if you don't think these lawsuits and threats of lawsuits are a deadly serious threat to American democracy, realize that libel lawsuits are one of the main tools Singapore has used to remain a one-party state since its independence.
Right now, there are no doubt many things Mr. Trump would like to be able to sue people for saying about him. For example, there's the speculation that he's suffering from dementia or mental illness. To borrow one of Mr. Trump's favorite rhetorical devices, a lot of people are saying his speech has gotten much less coherent over the last ten years, and this could be a sign of dementia.
It's hard for me personally to tell how much of Mr. Trump's mental condition is a recent development, but something is clearly wrong with him. He routinely says things that are so obviously false, I'd normally only expect to hear them from North Korean state media. The day after his inauguration, for example, he claimed that God had miraculously intervened to make it sunny with no rain during his inaugural address. In fact it rained throughout the speech.
Mr. Trump is known to be a great admirer of Kim Jong-Un, but unlike Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump does not (yet) have the power to have people killed or sent to forced labor camps for contradicting his absurd nonsense. This suggests he is either suffering from some sort of condition involving very serious delusions, or else is a pathological liar. The "pathological liar" hypothesis is supported by the fact that back in 1991, Spy magazine quoted a mob associate of Trump's as saying Trump would lie to you about the time of day, just for the practice.
Oh, did you know about Trump's mob ties? That's another thing he might like to be able to sue people into silence about. I've known about Trump's mob ties ever since I read Wayne Barrett's excellent biography of Trump, but I've never made a big deal of them because I think they're one of the least awful things we know about Trump. But it feels remiss to leave them out of a list of things Mr. Trump would probably like to be able to sue people for saying.
Not that I mean this to be an exhaustive list, by any means. This article is long enough without getting into Mr. Trump's long history of running petty scams, his involvement in money laundering, or his bribing of public officials. You can look that stuff up if you want, but I don't even know if it's relevant here. Trump was pretty open about his corruption on the campaign trail—his sales pitch was always that he could clean up government corruption because it takes a thief to catch a thief.
The main story about Trump and corruption is not that he was a career criminal before getting elected (though he was). It's that by the time he was inaugurated it was clear that he wasn't going to clean up Washington at all, but rather make it more corrupt. We set a thief to catch a thief, and instead he used the opportunity to do even more thieving. And the Republican Party doesn't care enough to stop him.
One incident from Trump's long criminal career is really shocking, however: Trump's use of quasi-slave labor in constructing Trump Tower. The fact that it happened is not really in dispute. Trump's line is that he didn't know about it at the time. However, in a civil suit brought by a union worker, the judge ruled that Trump did in fact know what was going on. An appeals court later revised this to saying Trump either knew or "should have known."
There's one other reason why Trump's criminal past might still matter today. A lot of people are saying Trump's ties to Russian organized crime and in particular Russian money laundering may have been part of how Vladimir Putin turned Trump into a Russian intelligence asset. And that there may be the biggest story Mr. Trump would like to be able to suppress. It's a big, complicated story that I can't do justice to here, but here are some of the key quotes from the dossier on Trump prepared by a former British intelligence agent and published by Buzzfeed:
Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting, and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance...
Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in MOSCOW sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB...
There were other aspects to TRUMP's engagement with the Russian authorities. One which has borne fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP's personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable 'kompromat' (compromising material) on him. According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP's (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform 'golden showers' (urination) show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to...
Further evidence of extensive conspiracy between TRUMP's campaign team and Kremlin, sanctioned at highest levels and involving Russian diplomatic staff based in the US...
Agreed exchange of information established in both directions. TRUMP's team using moles within the DNC and hackers in the US as well as outside in Russia. PUTIN motivated by fear and hatred of Hillary CLINTON. Russians receiving intel from TRUMP's team on Russian oligarchs and their families in US...
Suggestion from source close to TRUMP and MANAFORT that Republican campaign team happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt business ties to China and other emerging countries...
Commenting on the negative media publicity surrounding alleged Russian interference in the US election campaign in support of TRUMP, Source E said he understood that the Republican candidate and his team were relatively relaxed about this because it deflected media and the Democrats' attention away from TRUMP's business dealings in China and other emerging markets. Unlike in Russia, these were substantial and involved the payment of large bribes and kickbacks which, were they to become public, would be potentially very damaging to their campaign.
It's worth emphasizing that the what's important about the "golden showers" story isn't what the former intelligence agent calls Trump's "perversion" nor the sex workers. I honestly don't have a problem with either of those things. The fact that the incident seems to have been part of Trump's racist obsession with Obama is more troubling. But the key part is the possibility that, as I write this, Trump is doing certain things because Vladimir Putin is blackmailing him into doing them.
I've always thought it was possible that Trump's friendliness towards Putin is not due to blackmail or bribery, but simply because Trump is and always has been an authoritarian at heart, and admires Putin as a successful authoritarian. Over time, though, that hypothesis has come to look increasingly unlikely as more and more of this story (which I'm only scratching the surface of here) comes out.
Among other things, Trump's denials of the "golden showers" story are strikingly unconvincing. He claims he's always very careful in Russia—but how plausible is that, coming from a man who's bragged about sexual assault on a hot mic? Furthermore, Stanislav Belkovsky, an independent Russian TV host who's done a great deal of work to expose Vladimir Putin's corruption, has claimed that sex workers all around Moscow are saying the story is true.
Finally, as I was in the process of making final revisions to this article, CNN reported that US investigators had managed to corroborate some of the claims in the dossier about "conversations between foreign nationals". Shortly after that, CBS News reported that, according to a US official, "even people who discounted it initially have begun to take it more seriously."
Trump's knowing collaboration with Vladimir Putin is morally abhorent, and has no doubt already gotten innocent people killed. However, of all the information Mr. Trump has tried to suppress with frivolous libel suits, the must stomach-churning may be the fact that he brutally raped his first wife, Ivana.
According to a divorce deposition, Donald Trump, furious at Ivana for having recommended a doctor whose work he was unhappy with, ripped out fistfuls of Ivana's hair, raped her, and left her cying alone for the rest of the night. This allegation was corroborated by two of Ivana's friends. When The Daily Beast reported on these allegations, Trump's lawyer responded with a denial so unconvincing, it's basically an admission that Donald Trump absolutely did commit rape:
Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, defended his boss, saying, “You’re talking about the front runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”...
“It’s not the word that you’re trying to make it into,” Cohen told The Daily Beast, saying Ivana Trump was talking about how “she felt raped emotionally… She was not referring to it [as] a criminal matter, and not in its literal sense, though there’s many literal senses to the word.”
Cohen added that there is no such thing, legally, as a man raping his wife. “You cannot rape your spouse,” he said. “There’s very clear case law.”...
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added...
Cohen, Trump’s attorney, said that “there is nothing reasonable about you wanting to write a story about somebody’s usage of the word ‘rape,’ when she’s talking [about how] she didn’t feel emotionally satisfied.”
“Though there’s many literal senses to the word, if you distort it, and you put Mr. Trump’s name there onto it, rest assured, you will suffer the consequences. So you do whatever you want. You want to ruin your life at the age of 20? You do that, and I’ll be happy to serve it right up to you,” he added.
“I think you should go ahead and you should write the story that you plan on writing. I think you should do it. Because I think you’re an idiot. And I think your paper’s a joke, and it’s going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit, like I told [you] I did it to Univision,” Cohen continued.
Now here's where Melania's lawsuit comes in. It looks an awful lot like a lawyer working for Mr. Trump realize that he was not exactly the most sympathetic libel plaintiff, and Melania could be extremely useful for legitimizing Mr. Trump's desire to sue all his enemies out of existence. The linchpin here is that it's hard to see the legally relevant difference between Melania's lawsuit and the many frivolous libel suits her husband has filed or threatened to file. That means Melania's suit has the potential for serious chilling effects on news organizations, even before The Donald himself starts trying to build on any precedent it creates.
All of this is absolutely terrifying, but it gets even worse. Mr. Trump has been ordering the federal government to lie on his behalf from day one of his presidency. Literally on day one, he ordered his press secretary to lie about the size of the crowds at his inauguration. The National Park Service has been forced to apologize both for sharing accurate information about the crowd size, and for sharing accurate information about climate change.
More recently, Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump's Attorney General and fellow racist liar, claimed almost immediately after being sworn in that America is experiencing a "dangerous permanent trend" of rising crime. In fact America's crime rate is at a record low point. As Attorney General, Sessions will be charged with both collecting statistics on "terrorist-related activities" and deciding what "terrorist-related" means—effectively a license to lie to manufacture justification for Mr. Trump's policies, which we can expect Sessions to do with gusto.
Thanks to the constant lying and suppression of objective facts that is now the official policy of the federal government, journalists have been forced to rely more than ever on anonymous leaks to figure out what the hell is going on with said government. Trump has reacted by reflexively labeling any news stories he doesn't like as "FAKE NEWS". And a lot of people have dismissed these outbursts as ravings of an insecure clown.
However, taken together with the libel suits and officially-sanctioned lying, we get a darker picture of where the shouts of "FAKE NEWS" may be headed. Mr. Trump will first abuse the power of his office in every way he can to make facts he doesn't like difficult to verify. Then, when the truth inevitably leaks, he'll suppress it with a flurry of libel suits. The United States—if Mr. Trump has his way—will become like the former Soviet Union, where no one can trust a word the government says, the only available media parrots the government's lies, and everyone's best guess as to what's really going on is based on whispered rumors no one can quite verify.
The most depressing thing about this whole story is that the key allegations layed out above could probably be proven or disproven relatively quickly, if only Congress had the courage to do a serious investigation. There's no doubt in my mind that a serious Congressional investigation of Trump could produce an overwhelming consensus in favor of impeachment in short order. (Well, impeachment or a declaration of incapacity.)
However, so far even John McCain and Lindsey Graham have shown little evidence of having the backbone to stand up to Mr. Trump. Perhaps they have concluded that the most effective way to destroy him requires their initial moves to be quiet and behind the scenes. But perhaps not. This is why we need public discussion of the various accusations against Mr. Trump, including ones that are currently unproven. Talking openly about these issues is our only hope for forcing Congress to act—before it's too late.
P.S.—Melania, if you're reading this, the thought of standing up to your husband must terrify you. However, the spotlight is on him right now as it never has been before. If you chose to assert yourself now, he would have a very hard time getting away with doing to you the things he's done to so many other women.