On Monday, first lady Melania Trump filed a defamation suit against Mail Media, the publisher of Britain's Daily Mail, arguing that a since-retracted article in which the newspaper suggested without evidence that she might have been a high-end "escort" before marrying President Trump has "impugned her fitness to perform her duties as first lady of the United States" and harmed her "commercial brand and her business opportunities," depriving her of a "unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to forge "multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which [she] is one of the most photographed women in the world."
The new lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan and seeking at least $150 million in damages, expands on an earlier one Trump filed in Maryland in September, before her husband was elected; a judge recently threw out that case over questions of jurisdiction. In Monday's suit, filed by California lawyer Charles Harder, the first lady said her higher profile could have led to a "broad-based commercial brand" selling "apparel accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care, and fragrance." Trump, a model and former brand spokeswoman, has sold her own line of jewelry and skin products before. Harder is the lawyer who sued Gawker Media, winning $140 million and forcing its sale.
This is an unusual argument. "There has never been a first lady of the United States who insinuated that she intended to make a lot of money because of the 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity of being first lady," former White House ethics counsel Richard Painter tells The Washington Post. Painter, who has also criticized President Trump's refusal to substantively distance himself from his own business operations, is part of a lawsuit arguing that Trump's ties to his business violate the Constitution.
The Trump brand also seems to be a mixed bag post-inauguration. The Trump Organization has recently revealed plans to vastly expand its hotels and sharply raise fees at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump clubs, but first daughter Ivanka Trump's apparel and jewelry brands were just dropped by Nordstrom and perhaps Neiman Marcus.