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Lawsuit or Bust? Stormy Daniels’ Lie Detector Is Legally Questionable Proof of Tryst


In a case that has been largely been litigated in the court of public opinion, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, tweeted on Tuesday this image of his client strapped into what appears to be a lie detector:

The Tweet came as The Wall Street Journal and NBC News reported that Daniels had taken a polygraph in 2011, long before Donald Trump‘s run for president, which appears to have indicated Daniels was telling the truth about having unprotected sex with Trump back in 2006. (The examiner’s notes, published by NBC News, are here.)

The polygraph was apparently done at the request of a magazine interviewing Daniels about the alleged tryst. The magazine held the interview for years and did not publish it. Later, InTouch published what appears to be the same interview.

Lie detector test results are largely considered inadmissible in court because the tests are not reliable. People can cheat them and, sometimes, the tests pick up false readings. The U.S. Supreme Court pointed out the lack of consensus on reliability of polygraphs in U.S. v. Scheffer (1998):

[T]here is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable. To this day, the scientific community remains extremely polarized about the reliability of polygraph techniques.

Still, it looks good in the court of public opinion to promulgate images of one’s client strapped into an alleged truth-telling device.

The Wall Street Journal report said Avenatti paid $25,000 for the rights to video footage of the lie detector test. The Journal also reported Daniels was trying to sell the story for $15,000 back when she did the original, unpublished interview for Life & Style Magazine. Avenatti claimed The Wall Street Journal story was full of errors in a subsequent Tweet:

Avenatti, however, retweeted the NBC report about the lie detector test, which says nothing about the alleged payments, without complaint. That report is available here.

It is unclear, from a legal standpoint, why Avenatti would have paid for the recording of the polygraph, unless it was to purchase the copyright to the video from another party, such as the magazine which requested it or the polygraph examiner who, presumably, could have been the one to engage in the recording. The recording from 2011 would pre-date Daniels’ 2016 nondisclosure agreement with Trump.

The White House and a Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, have repeatedly denied that any affair took place between Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and Donald Trump. Daniels is suing to invalidate a confidentiality agreement she signed shortly before Trump was elected president.

[Image source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

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Aaron Keller is an attorney licensed in two states. He holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. During law school, he completed legal residencies in the Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General and in a local prosecutor’s office. He was employed as a summer associate in the New Hampshire Department of Safety, which manages the state police, and further served as a summer law clerk for a New York trial judge. Before law school, Keller worked for television stations in New York and in the Midwest, mostly as an evening news anchor and investigative reporter. His original reporting on the Wisconsin murder of Teresa Halbach was years later featured in the Netflix film "Making A Murderer."