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Why Is Melania Trump Using Hulk Hogan's Lawyer to Fight Escort Rumors?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 23, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Melania Trump has been busy lately. Not only is she helping her husband, Donald Trump, run for president, she's now sending a bevy of cease and desist letters to media outlets who've written about rumors that she worked as an escort when she first came to New York from Slovenia. Of course, accusations of defamation are to be expected when someone makes such claims; no one is surprised by that.

What stands out, though, is the name on Melania's demand letters. They were not sent out by Michael D. Cohen, the Donald's usual lawyer, but by Charles Harder, the attorney who represented Hulk Hogan in his lawsuit against the website Gawker. Harder is also closely associated with Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who has made it a bit of a personal hobby to finance lawsuits against the press.

Forget That Peter Guy. What's This About Escorting?

Alright, before we get to the strange connections behind Melania Trump's lawyer, first the rumors that inspired her to threaten legal action. Last Friday, the Daily Mail, a U.K. tabloid, published a piece (warning: that link is slightly NSFW) on Ms. Trump's arrival in New York. According to the Mail, a series of "highly-charged, lesbian-themed, nude photographs" taken of Melania may show that she violated her student visa by working.

But the Mail also delves into rumors, highly unsubstantiated rumors, that Melania and Donald met when she was working as an escort. One source is an apparently self-published hatchet piece on Amazon; the other, a Slovenian magazine.

In an email to Politico, Harder announced Melania was considering legal action against the Mail in response to the story. He wrote:

Mrs. Trump has placed several news organizations on notice of her legal claims against them, including Daily Mail among others, for making false and defamatory statements about her supposedly having been an "escort" in the 1990s. All such statements are 100% false, highly damaging to her reputation, and personally hurtful. She understands that news media have certain leeway in a presidential campaign, but outright lying about her in this way exceeds all bounds of appropriate news reporting and human decency.

Enter the Wrestler and Tech Billionaire

Here's where Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel come in. Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, recently won a $140 million judgement against Gawker Media, the online media company. Gawker Media's flagship blog, Gawker, had published a clip of Hogan having sex with his friend's wife, leading to Hogan's lawsuit for invasion of privacy, which in turn led to Gawker's bankruptcy, its sale to Univision, and, just yesterday, the shuttering of its eponymous website.

But only after Hogan's trial was it revealed that the lawsuit had been financed by Peter Thiel, the tech mogul who made billions at companies like PayPal and Palantir. Thiel had apparently spent years secretly supporting lawsuits against the website. Depending on who you ask, the libertarian billionaire's litigation funding was part of a vendetta after Gawker outed him years beforehand (that's his version) or an attempt to shut down criticism of tech titans (that's Gawker's take).

So why is Thiel's lawyer of choice now working for Melania Trump? Maybe Melania just liked Harder more than the many other lawyers closely associated with the Trumps. Maybe the Donald wanted to distance himself from issuing legal threats against the press (though we doubt it). Or maybe Thiel, who has been a vocal Trump supporter, wants to broaden his crusade against online gossip, now that Gawker has gone under. For now, we'll just have to guess.

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