Melania Trump Inc. imperiled

The New York Times reports: President Donald Trump and his family have done little to assuage concerns that they see the White House as a cash cow. The president has bucked tradition by refusing to release his tax returns. He ignored pleas from the Office of Government Ethics, which called on him to fully divest his holdings in order to avoid dragging mounds of conflicts of interest into the Oval Office. The president’s adult sons have been busy working on projects at home and abroad now that the Trump name opens more doors than ever. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, conspicuously wore a piece from her jewelry line in a postelection interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

But any veneer of plausible deniability about the Trump family’s greed and their transactional view of the most powerful job in the world was shattered this week by a defamation lawsuit the first lady, Melania Trump, filed. Mrs. Trump is suing The Daily Mail’s website in New York State court over a story published last year that included a baseless claim that the former model once worked as an escort. Mrs. Trump is certainly entitled to challenge the accuracy of that allegation and to argue that it was defamatory.

But her assessment of the damage the claim has done to her earning potential is galling, and revelatory. As a result of the report published in August, Mrs. Trump contends in the suit, her “brand has lost significant value, and major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her have been lost and/or substantially impacted.” The suit offers no specific examples of lost business opportunities.

The timing of the story was particularly injurious, according to the lawsuit, considering that Mrs. Trump “had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson, and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multimillion-dollar business relationships for a multiyear term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

There is no benign way to look at that claim. Mrs. Trump evidently believes her new title affords her a chance to rake in millions of dollars.

Timothy L. O’Brien writes: For students of good government, Melania’s lawsuit does have an upside: the discovery process.

Since she is seeking at least $150 million in damages stemming from missed business opportunities, the lawyers representing the Daily Mail should eventually avail themselves of their discovery powers to secure each and every e-mail, communique and document about White House business prospects that the Trump parents and children discussed. They should also subpoena the Trump family’s tax returns and banking records while they’re at it.

If President Trump isn’t inclined to release his tax returns or be more transparent about his business dealings, then maybe the courts can help him along. [Continue reading…]

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