An adult film star who says she was paid hush money to keep quiet about a prior affair with President Donald Trump found her religious views under attack during a legal proceeding.
Stormy Daniels became a national figure in 2018 after she sought to be released from a non-disclosure agreement she had signed after her alleged affair with Trump. She hired Michael Avenatti, a high-profile attorney, to represent her in the matter.
Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, charged that Avenatti stole $300,000 from a book advance Daniels received, in part by forging her signature on some legal papers. He was subsequently indicted on federal charges of identity theft and wire fraud.
During his trial, Avenatti’s attorneys took aim at Daniels’ mental state in legal papers, noting that she has an interest in witchcraft and paranormal topics, Religion News Service (RNS) reported.
“Ms. Clifford has made any number of bizarre, fantastical claims that call into serious question her truthfulness, mental state, and ability to competently testify,” the attorneys asserted. They also noted she had appeared on a reality TV show called “Spooky Babes.”
They went on to allege her having claimed to be a psychic and a witch. Daniels, who has described herself as a medium and an energy worker, countered that these beliefs are tied to her religion.
In a Facebook posting, she wrote, “Let me get this straight. They are going to use my religious [beliefs] and profession to discriminate against me. This is literally a modern-day witch hunt. The precedent this sets moving forward is absolutely terrifying! It opens the door to attack and discrimination against every person that identifies as something other than Christian, reads tarot, is a medium and works in energy healing and paranormal [phenomena] in any capacity.”
In federal court, where the case was heard, rules prohibit a witness’s being attacked for his or her “religious beliefs or opinions.” But Avenatti still managed to raise some of the issues when he cross-examined Daniels in late January by asking her questions about her belief in ghosts and her claim that she possessed a “haunted” doll named Susan that could communicate with dead people.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky, who prosecuted Avenatti, told the jury that Daniels’ views on spiritualism aren’t relevant.
“Whether you think it’s kooky to believe in the paranormal, whether you think it’s weird, she can believe whatever she wants and still be stolen from by the defendant and still deserve not to,” Podolsky said.
Avenatti’s ploy failed, and the jury found him guilty on Feb. 4. He will be sentenced in May, and could face up to 20 years in prison.
In an article on the website “Religion Dispatches,” Daniel S. Wise, a researcher who has studied Americans’ beliefs in the paranormal, noted that Daniels is far from alone in her views.
“[I]n the United States, paranormal belief is thriving,” Wise wrote. “The Baylor Religion Survey of 2014 found that 52% of Americans hold at least one paranormal belief, including hauntings, UFOs as alien spacecraft, psychics, or cryptids such as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.”