What's at stake in Melania Trump lawsuit: The first lady's reputation, earning potential

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melania trump lawsuit merchandise bennett ac pkg_00003622

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Story highlights

  • First lady Melania Trump is -- in and of herself -- a "brand," her lawyers said
  • "The first lady has no intention of using her position for profit," he lawyer added

(CNN)First lady Melania Trump is -- in and of herself -- a "brand," one that could elicit lucrative endorsement opportunities, according to a lawsuit refiled by her attorneys on Monday.

The lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court, argues a now-retracted Daily Mail Online article published last August that falsely alleged the first lady once worked for an escort service has damaged her reputation to the tune of many millions of dollars. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of at least $150 million, according to the filing.
"(Melania Trump), as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson, and successful businesswoman" had the opportunity to potentially earn millions based on the fact that she is "one of the most photographed women in the world," according to the suit.
The suit was originally filed in Maryland but the judge dismissed it, ruling it had been filed in the wrong court.
Charles Harder, the first lady's lawyer, said the Daily Mail Online story jeopardized Trump's profitability and put on fragile ground business dealings between herself and branding opportunities, including those in "apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance."
But Harder and a White House spokeswoman -- in identically worded statements -- both denied the first lady intends to profit while in her current position, despite language used in the suit to imply she would be pocketing millions in endorsement money while her husband is in office.
"The first lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so," said Harder, whose firm, Harder Mirell & Abrams is representing Trump. "Any statements to the contrary are being misinterpreted."
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Another defamation suit filed on behalf of Trump, this one involving Maryland-based blogger Webster Griffin Tarpley, was settled Tuesday morning. CNN reported Trump's lawyers as saying Tarpley agreed to pay a "substantial sum" as settlement. Additionally, Tarpley released the below retraction and apology:
"I posted an article on August 2, 2016, about Melania Trump that was replete with false and defamatory statements about her. I had no legitimate factual basis to make these false statements and I fully retract them. I acknowledge that these false statements were very harmful and hurtful to Mrs. Trump and her family, and therefore I sincerely apologize to Mrs. Trump, her son, her husband and her parents for making these false statements," he said.
But the case against the Daily Mail Online remains active.
Thinking of the first lady of the United States being a brand spokeswoman for makeup or shampoo might seem unorthodox. But considering Trump was in the business of beauty, working as a model, jewelry designer and skin care line owner prior to her current role, the idea that she could in future return to her previous line of work is not completely out of the realm of possibility.
"Former first ladies have not typically made money through endorsement deals, but of course we're not dealing with a typical first lady," says Anne MacDonald, former post-White House chief of staff for Laura Bush. "Mrs. Trump certainly has a pre-existing brand from her modeling career, as well as her husband's lifetime of cultivating his personal image. Depending on their levels of popularity upon leaving the White House, they certainly could look to marketing and licensing deals that prior presidents and first ladies have not entertained."
Previous first ladies have made post-White House profits from books and speaking fees, however.
Anita McBride, executive-in-residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs at American University, and a veteran of three previous Republican presidential administrations, agreed that Melania Trump's background is unprecedented and, as such, protecting her brand is worth a fight.
"She has a right, just like any of us, to protect her reputation. She wants the record to be clear," said McBride, adding that the value of her reputation is part of a Trump's business portfolio.