Musicians and booze have long gone together, and in the last few years acts from the Pogues to Drake have put their names on whiskey bottles. This year, Bob Dylan joins them with his own brand, Heaven’s Door, beginning with a seven-year-old bourbon, a “double-barreled” American whiskey and a rye finished in French Vosges oak barrels.
Mr. Dylan and his team don’t make the whiskey; they buy it from undisclosed producers and add their own twists before bottling. When I recently sampled the three variations of Heaven’s Door, I was curious about what, if anything, set it apart from other notable whiskeys. Here’s what I found.
Straight Tennessee Bourbon
On the nose, this is a classic, no-fuss bourbon, though with more oak-derived notes — think caramel, vanilla and wood char — than you’d expect from a seven-year-old. I also smelled sandalwood, leather and linseed oil. And there’s a creamy cola note that suggests a good bit of rye in the mash bill. (Mr. Dylan and his team say they use just 70 percent corn, leaving a lot of room for other grains to show their influence.) The palate opens with a soft cocoa and buttercream note, then sharpens toward black pepper and cigar tobacco. The finish is slightly bitter, with the sweet spiciness of an Atomic Fireball. My favorite of the bunch.
Double Barrel Whiskey
More restrained than its stable mates, the Double Barrel — in which different whiskeys have been blended and further aged together in another cask — smells of cake batter, fresh berries and children’s cough syrup; as it develops in the glass, its nose turns darker and woodier, with a hint of sweet fortified wine lurking in the background. It tastes surprisingly astringent and medicinal, given the nose, with a thin mouthfeel and notes of tobacco, allspice and wood smoke, resolving in ground pepper. The wood influence on this one is strong, perhaps too much, but it would make a nice substitute for a rye in a manhattan.
Straight Rye Whiskey
Most rye whiskey on the market these days is made at a distillery in southern Indiana called Midwest Grain Products, then sold to brands like George Dickel and Bulleit. Some brands then “finish” the whiskey by placing it in a used or new barrel to give it a twist — in this case, the rye goes into toasted Vosges oak barrels, which are often used to age pinot noir. Heaven’s Door doesn’t reveal where its rye comes from, but its nose is rich with MGP’s trademark dill and herbal notes. There’s also a sweet grassiness, cocoa powder, tobacco and a slap of leather. It opens deceptively smooth on the palate, but builds to a sweet spiciness before finishing with a burst of spicy, bittersweet chocolate.
[Read a Times taster’s review of Bob Dylan’s whiskeys.]
The marketing of celebrity alcohol tends to lean on the perceived lifestyle of its mascots. Drink George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila, for example — sold last year to the beverage giant Diageo for up to $1 billion — and acquire some of his movie-star glamour. Want to party like Jay-Z? Buy an $850 Armand de Brignac.
“It’s about fairy dust,” said Michael Stone, the chairman of the brand licensing agency Beanstalk, who is not involved with Heaven’s Door. “People are looking for some of the fairy dust to be sprinkled on them from that celebrity’s lifestyle.”
Heaven’s Door is meant to conjure a broader idea of Mr. Dylan that is part Renaissance man, part nighthawk. The label design is derived from his ironwork sculptures, with rural iconography — crows, wagon wheels — in silhouette. And in promotional photos lighted like classic movie stills, a tuxedo-clad Mr. Dylan, 76, gazes off in a dark cocktail lounge or lonely diner, glass in hand.
Like his recent albums of standards, they portray Mr. Dylan as an urbane but still gritty crooner — one who might well wind down his day with a glass of bourbon.
“Dylan has these qualities that actually work well for a whiskey,” Mr. Bushala said. “He has great authenticity. He is a quintessential American. He does things the way he wants to do them. I think these are good attributes for a super-premium whiskey as well.”
Mr. Dylan is entering the craft whiskey market as the business is exploding. Helped by a craze for classic cocktails, sales of American whiskey grew 52 percent over the last five years, to $3.4 billion in 2017, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council.
But for those who have been listening closely, whiskey has been a decades-long thread throughout Mr. Dylan’s music, going back to the early outtake “Moonshiner” in 1963 and to Mr. Dylan’s version of the song “Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight),” on the 1970 album “Self Portrait,” which describes the distilling process in detail. (“Get you a copper kettle, get you a copper coil/Fill it with new made corn mash and never more you’ll toil.”)
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Mr. Bushala said that over four or five meetings — always at Mr. Dylan’s metalworking studio in Los Angeles — and a number of phone calls, he had learned that his partner has a sophisticated whiskey palate.
Yet communication was still a challenge. Mr. Bushala and Ryan Perry, the chief operating officer, struggled to interpret Mr. Dylan’s wishes. Often they came in the form of enigmatic comments or simply glances.
“Sometimes you just get a long look,” Mr. Bushala said with a laugh, “and you’re not sure if that’s disgust or approval.”
He and Mr. Perry recalled Mr. Dylan’s tasting a sample of the double-barreled whiskey and saying that something was missing. “It should feel like being in a wood structure,” he said.
They struggled to decode the remark. What kind of wooden structure? A church? A railroad car? A barn? That led Mr. Bushala and Mr. Perry first to probing discussions about the nose — the liquor’s aroma in the glass — and then to experiments in how they toasted the barrels in which the whiskey is aged.
Months later, the men returned with a sample that they felt embodied “that sweet, musty smell of a barn,” Mr. Bushala said, and presented it to Mr. Dylan, who commented approvingly.
His oblique feedback, Mr. Perry said, “really helped us think about barrel finishing in a different way.”
The first batches of Heaven’s Door were developed with Jordan Via, formerly of the Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado. Together, the team tried various novel finishes. The rye, for example, was aged in cigar-shaped oak barrels made from wood harvested in the Vosges region of France.
To preserve Mr. Dylan’s original name for the whiskey, the company will issue an annual Bootleg Series in limited editions, in ceramic bottles decorated with his oil and watercolor paintings. The first, a 25-year-old whiskey, will be released next year and cost about $300. (Heaven’s Door’s standard line goes for $50 to $80 a bottle.)
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The idea of Mr. Dylan’s being connected to a commercial venture always activates some level of outrage, as it did in 2014 when fans cried “sellout” for his involvement in two Super Bowl TV ads: one for Chobani yogurt, which used his song “I Want You,” and another for Chrysler, in which Mr. Dylan recited a patriotic script about the car industry.
But Mr. Dylan has never shied from commercial deals, and in the long run they have barely grazed his reputation. In 1994, he allowed Richie Havens to sing his anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in an ad for the button-down accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand. Ten years later, Mr. Dylan was mocked for appearing in a Victoria’s Secret commercial (in which he tossed his black cowboy hat to a supermodel wearing angel wings). Since then, he has done spots for Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi, IBM and Google.
Mr. Dylan has also made a novel licensing deal for his full song catalog to be available for use in a television drama now under development.
Bill Flanagan, a veteran music journalist who has interviewed Mr. Dylan, likens him to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash — self-made entertainers who saw no conflict in joining the marketplace.
And then there is simply Mr. Dylan’s talent for provocation.
“Dylan has always resisted any attempt to fence him in,” Mr. Flanagan said. “As soon as people start calling him king of the folkies, or patron saint of the counterculture, or beloved anticommercial leftist icon — he almost always does something to thwart that.”
Whether Heaven’s Door can compete is another question. Mr. Bushala was one of the founders of Angel’s Envy, which was introduced in 2011 and sold to Bacardi four years later after developing a reputation for quality and innovation. Yet the whiskey aisle keeps getting more crowded. According to Nielsen, more than 20,000 kinds of spirits are sold in the United States, and last year there were 27 percent more whiskeys on sale than in 2013.
Mr. Bushala said that in their first conversation, he had told Mr. Dylan that “whiskey drinkers are a very cynical crowd” and that the success of their enterprise would depend on the quality of the product, not Mr. Dylan’s image.
Yet a few months after their first meeting, Mr. Bushala said, he had a scare when Mr. Dylan was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature — and then waited weeks to acknowledge the honor, leading to speculation that he might not accept. “Oh, no, a P.R. nightmare!” Mr. Bushala remembered thinking.
But then he realized that defying expectations was “very much on brand” for Mr. Dylan, and likened the Nobel episode — ultimately, a success — to their whiskey deal.
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“For people who are surprised that he did a whiskey,” Mr. Bushala said, “I guess they don’t really know Dylan. People who know him expect him to do things they would never expect.”
One of the owners, Ira Drukier, said last month that 48 long-term tenants remained. He said the goal was to open rooms on the upper floors in a few months.
“We started from the top down,” he said. “We hope to have 10, 9, 8, 7 in operation before the end of the year.”
Last month the renovations reached the restaurant on the first floor, El Quijote. It will remain closed for several months while workers install support columns in the kitchen, among other things. And the tenants who are living through the renovation come and go through an unstylish vestibule that leads to a lobby that has all the charm of a construction site, although the ornate front desk is a transplant from the hotel’s earlier days.
Mr. Georgiou said he lived in the Chelsea from September 2002 to April 2011. He said he had been a principal in an internet start-up company, living on Chambers Street downtown, and witnessed the Sept. 11 attacks from his apartment. He moved out amid health problems and a financial drain, and ended up at the Chelsea.
“When you move in there,” he said, “without getting ethereal about it, there is a sense of energy in the building.”
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There was also what he called its “utopian spirit.” “They were running a business, for sure,” he said, “but there was eccentricity, kookiness, darkness, light, all of it colliding to make it a very interesting place.” That began to change after the longtime manager, Stanley Bard, was ousted in 2007 in a power struggle among the owners.
Mr. Georgiou said he had occupied Room 225, and of course it had a history. “I lived in Bob Dylan’s room,” he said. One of them, anyway. “He lived in three rooms: 211, 215 and 225,” he said.
Mr. Georgiou said he visited the building after renovations began and construction workers were in the corridors. “I said, ‘Do you guys realize what you’re doing here?’ ” he recalled. “I said: ‘This is history. I realize the building needs work, but tread lightly.’ One day I asked, ‘What are you doing with this stuff?’ They said, ‘Oh, we’re throwing it away.’ ”
Now the tabloid company has been drawn into a sweeping federal investigation of Mr. Cohen’s activities, including efforts to head off potentially damaging stories about Mr. Trump during his run for the White House. In one instance, The Enquirer bought but did not publish a story about an alleged extramarital relationship years earlier with the presidential candidate, an unusual decision for a scandal sheet.
The federal inquiry could pose serious legal implications for the president and his campaign committee. It also presents thorny questions about A.M.I.’s First Amendment protections, and whether its record in supporting Mr. Trump somehow opens the door to scrutiny usually reserved for political organizations.
A search warrant federal prosecutors in New York served to Mr. Cohen this week requests, among other things, all communications between him, Mr. Pecker and Dylan Howard, the business’s chief content officer. The company was in touch with Mr. Cohen, The New York Times previously reported, as it pursued its deal to acquire the rights to a former Playboy model’s story about an affair with Mr. Trump.
The company is also facing a Federal Election Commission complaint claiming that the $150,000 payment to the woman, Karen McDougal, represented an illegal campaign contribution. A.M.I. is in the process of responding.
A.M.I. has denied any wrongdoing while also saying its cooperation with investigators will not extend beyond its constitutionally protected status as a news organization.
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“It’s easy to look down at the work product of celebrity magazines and assume they are not entitled to same protections as the mainstream media,” said Cameron Stracher, a lawyer for A.M.I. “But the First Amendment was designed to protect all speech against government intrusion.”
In A.M.I., Mr. Trump has had an unusually powerful media backer, one that complements the supportive prime-time slate at Fox News.
The Enquirer had an average paid circulation of about 260,000 copies weekly in the second half of last year. That was a 13 percent drop from the previous six-month average, according to publisher data provided to the Alliance for Audited Media that was obtained by The Times.
But most of its sales come over the counter at $4.99 a copy. The Enquirer provides a useful platform for a politician seeking votes from average Americans, in a place candidates have gone to show their familiarity with everyday life: the supermarket checkout lane.
The family that controlled A.M.I. before Mr. Pecker took it over in 1999, the Popes, moved early on to secure prime placement for The Enquirer in magazine racks at grocery store cash registers. The company now also owns The Globe, Us Weekly, OK! and other titles that benefit from that arrangement.
In a statement, the company said, “If A.M.I. was ‘helpful’ to the president during the campaign, it was because the audience of The National Enquirer was one of the most supportive of his candidacy during the campaign.” It added that Enquirer covers featuring Mr. Trump increased sales.
“We covered him for a business reason,” the statement said.
Mr. Pecker, a Bronx native who has reveled in upsetting the Manhattan magazine establishment since the early 1990s, has been open about his view that A.M.I. has good reason to connect itself to Mr. Trump. As he told The New Yorker last year, he considered an attack on Mr. Trump an attack on A.M.I. — implying they were one in the same.
He said that after A.M.I. bought Ms. McDougal’s story and agreed to feature her in health and fitness columns in non-gossip magazines like Hers and Flex, it expected her loyalty to the company and Mr. Trump. “Once she’s part of the company, then on the outside she can’t be bashing Trump and American Media,” he said.
Mr. Pecker has been supportive of Mr. Trump’s presidential aspirations since his run as a Reform Party candidate in 2000, when George magazine — part of the company Mr. Pecker ran then, Hachette — featured a friendly profile. The Enquirer was early to promote Mr. Trump’s potential bid in 2011.
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As Mr. Trump ramped up his campaign in 2015, he, Mr. Cohen, Mr. Howard and Mr. Pecker engaged in more serious discussions about how A.M.I. could be helpful, according to several people familiar with the efforts.
In one early interaction, Mr. Cohen helped arrange an ultimately abandoned attempt to buy and bury a potentially damaging photograph of Mr. Trump at an event with a topless woman — what is known in the tabloid world as a “catch and kill” operation.
One person close to the campaign at the time recalled a meeting at Trump Tower in February 2015 between Mr. Pecker and Mr. Trump about how A.M.I. could help surface embarrassing information about Bill and Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, during a general election. The person, who requested anonymity to discuss private matters, said Mr. Cohen was also present. A.M.I. declined to say whether the meeting took place, and Mr. Cohen did not respond to a request for comment.
There are several intersections between Mr. Trump’s world and Mr. Pecker’s. The former casino executive, David R. Hughes, joined A.M.I.’s board in 2013, when he was the chief financial officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts (he is no longer a Trump employee). After the 2016 campaign ended, a media adviser, Justin McConney, landed at A.M.I. as its audience development director (he has since left).
One of A.M.I.’s top financiers, the billionaire Leon G. Cooperman, was critical of Mr. Trump during the campaign but has more recently compared him favorably to Ronald Reagan. Last July, he accompanied Mr. Pecker to a White House dinner with Mr. Trump, along with another A.M.I. financial backer, Anthony Melchiorre, of Chatham Asset Management.
At the center of the campaign finance inquiries will be whether the ties between Mr. Cohen, Mr. Howard, Mr. Pecker, Mr. Trump and others led A.M.I. to act more like a political supporter than a news organization.
The group that brought the federal election complaint, Common Cause, claims the payment for Ms. McDougal’s story was not a “legitimate press function” and therefore was not protected by rules exempting news organizations from campaign finance regulations.
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The question represents tricky terrain for federal officials, given the protection journalists have under the First Amendment. “We always worry when investigators are making those judgment calls about whether your editorial process is legitimate or not, or is this legitimate journalism or not,” said Alexandra Ellerbeck, the North America program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Yet even the staunchest defenders of the press say fraudulent activity is not protected by journalistic freedoms.
“We are not, as media organizations, immune from the civil and criminal laws of the country,” said Sandra S. Baron, a senior fellow at Yale Law School and the former executive director of the Media Law Resource Center.
To secure the right to perform the songs with altered lyrics, permission was required from the songs’ publishers. “The response was completely positive,” said Rob Kaplan, the project’s executive producer.
Mr. Kaplan started his search for artists with Ben Gibbard, the frontman for Death Cab for Cutie, an alternative rock band from Washington State. Mr. Gibbard had expressed his support of marriage equality in a 2012 essay for The Daily Beast, inspired by his sister, a lesbian. “This was a cause at our family dinner table,” Mr. Gibbard said.
For the project, Mr. Gibbard elected to recast the Beatles classic “And I Love Her” to “And I Love Him.” “It’s a song my dad often played to my mom after dinner,” he said. “Also, it’s a song everyone knows.”
Kesha chose Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love” (“such a gritty, soulful song,” Kesha said), and changed it to “I Need a Woman to Love.” “For years I said that I’m not getting married until any two people can legally marry in this country,” Kesha said. She has since become ordained and has performed weddings for two gay couples.
Valerie June, a country and blues singer who attended her first gay marriage last year for her cousin, recorded a big-band version of “Mad About the Boy,” changing “boy” to “girl.” Ms. June believes it adds an extra layer of meaning that the song’s writer, Noël Coward, was gay and that the version he recorded in 1932 wasn’t released in its day because of prevailing homophobia.
“It brings the song full circle to know that it was written by a gay man who meant every single word of ‘Mad About the Boy,’” she said.
Mr. Dylan, who does not appear to have spoken out in favor of gay rights in the past, declined to be interviewed. But his choice of song, “She’s Funny That Way,” which has been recorded by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, gains a wink in its current guise; “He’s Funny That Way” can also be read as an antiquated code for a gay person.
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Mr. Dylan’s warm and wry performance captures the mix of wit and sincerity favored by songs from the American standards era.
Mr. Kaplan said that when he contacted Mr. Dylan, he got a very quick yes. “And it wasn’t just ‘yes, I’ll do this,’” he said. “It was ‘hey, I have an idea for a song.’”
“Universal Love” arrives at an evolving time for same-sex pronouns in pop. Though major music stars started to come out in significant numbers in the 1990s, with artists including K. D. Lang, Melissa Etheridge and Elton John, rarely, if ever, did they use same-sex pronouns in their recordings.
Only in the last six years have younger stars slowly begun to do so, including Frank Ocean, Olly Alexander and Mary Lambert, who crooned the chorus of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s Grammy-nominated “Same Love” in 2012.
“For a long time, queer people had to use the awkward ‘you’ in their songs to avoid outing themselves,” said Stephan Pennington, a professor of music at Tufts University who teaches a course in “queer pop.”
“There has also always been pressure from the record companies to not be exclusionary by using a same-sex pronoun,” Mr. Pennington said. “But heterosexual expressions are never thought of as exclusionary.”
Indeed, Sam Smith, arguably the most prominent gay pop star today, refrains from using same-sex pronouns.
Allison Zatarain, a producer of a new album titled “Instant Love,” which mirrors the mission of “Universal Love” by featuring female artists singing love songs to other women, believes the use of same-sex pronouns in pop songs “fills a massive hole in the world’s musical library.”
“To hear a woman sing to another woman, or a man to a man, lends the song a specificity that is so much more impactful than addressing ‘you,’” she said.
“The lawsuit filed today aims to restore her right to her own voice,” he said, adding, “We intend to invalidate the so-called contract that American Media Inc. imposed on Karen so she can move forward with the private life she deserves.”
Ms. McDougal filed her suit just days before Ms. Clifford was to appear on “60 Minutes” to discuss her relationship with Mr. Trump and the efforts Mr. Cohen undertook on his client’s behalf to pay for her silence.
Mr. Trump joined a legal effort last week seeking some $20 million in penalties tied to Ms. Clifford’s agreement.
The court dispute has drawn public attention to an issue that was previously sidelined. And both women’s suits could provide more fodder for federal complaints from the watchdog group Common Cause that the payoffs were, effectively, illegal campaign contributions.
Ms. Clifford and Ms. McDougal tell strikingly similar stories about their experiences with Mr. Trump, which included alleged trysts at the same Lake Tahoe golf tournament in 2006, dates at the same Beverly Hills hotel and promises of apartments as gifts. Their stories first surfaced in the The Wall Street Journal four days before the election, but got little traction in the swirl of news that followed Mr. Trump’s victory. The women even shared the same Los Angeles lawyer, Keith Davidson, who has long worked for clients who sell their stories to the tabloids.
Ms. McDougal negotiated with the country’s leading tabloid news provider, A.M.I., which is known to buy and bury stories that might damage friends and allies of its chief executive, David J. Pecker — a practice known as “catch and kill.”
Ms. McDougal’s legal complaint alleges that she did not know about the practice, or about Mr. Pecker’s friendship with Mr. Trump, when she began talking to company representatives in spring 2016, shortly after Mr. Trump locked up the Republican nomination.
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A.M.I. has previously acknowledged that Mr. Trump had been friends with Mr. Pecker, but said that he had never tried to influence coverage at the company’s publications.
Ms. McDougal has said that she was ambivalent about selling her story on the tabloid news market, but felt that her hand was forced after a hint of the alleged affair appeared in May 2016 on social media. Convinced something more would come out, she was determined to tell her story on her terms, her suit says.
A mutual friend connected her to Mr. Davidson, who, she said, told her the story could be worth millions. He arranged an interview with Dylan Howard, A.M.I.’s chief content officer, in Los Angeles. Mr. Davidson told her before the interview that A.M.I. would put $500,000 in an escrow account for her, and that “a seven-figure publishing contract awaited her,” the complaint reads.
Mr. Howard spent several hours pressing Ms. McDougal on the details of her story. But several days later, the media company declined to buy it, the complaint reads, and “Mr. Davidson revealed that, in fact, there was no money in escrow.”
A spokesman for Mr. Davidson said on Tuesday that the lawyer “fulfilled his obligations and zealously advocated for Ms. McDougal to accomplish her stated goals at that time,” but that commenting further would “violate attorney-client privilege.”
A.M.I. told The Times last month that it decided not to print Ms. McDougal’s story because it could not verify important details, though it acknowledged discussing her allegations with Mr. Cohen, the president’s lawyer, saying it did so as part of its reporting process.
The tabloid company showed renewed interest in the story in summer 2016, when Ms. McDougal began talks with ABC News. This time, A.M.I. offered a different deal.
Mr. Davidson informed her that A.M.I. would buy her story but not publish it because of Mr. Pecker’s relationship with Mr. Trump, the suit says. The payment would be $150,000, with Mr. Davidson and others involved on her behalf taking 45 percent. More alluring to Ms. McDougal, who is now a fitness specialist, was that the media company would feature her on its covers and in regular health and fitness columns, the complaint says.
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As A.M.I. and Mr. Davidson pushed her to sign the deal on Aug. 5, Ms. McDougal expressed misgivings. But, her suit says, Mr. Davidson and Mr. Howard argued in an urgent Skype call that the deal to promote her would “kick start and revitalize” her career, given that she was “old now.” She was 45.
In all, they said, the contract would obligate A.M.I. to run more than 100 columns or articles and at least two covers featuring her. When she asked Mr. Davidson what she should do if her story leaked, he responded in an email, “IF YOU DENY YOU ARE SAFE,” and urged her to sign as soon as possible, according to the court documents.
The Times reported last month that Mr. Davidson sent Mr. Cohen an email on Aug. 5, 2016, asking him to call. Mr. Davidson then told Mr. Cohen over the phone that the deal had been completed, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
The timeline provided in the lawsuit shows that Mr. Davidson’s email came as he and A.M.I. were still hashing out the terms of the deal, which Ms. McDougal did not sign until the following day, Aug. 6. Mr. Cohen told The Times last month that he did not recall the communications.
After signing the contract, Ms. McDougal grew frustrated when she did not hear about columns or cover shoots for several weeks. She later figured out why. Though the agreement explicitly mentioned “a monthly column” on aging and fitness for OK! and Star, and “four posts each month” on Radar Online, it only gave A.M.I. “the right” to print them. It was not an obligation.
“She was tricked into signing it while being misled as to its contents (including by her own lawyer, on whose advice she was entitled to rely),” the lawsuit reads. So far, A.M.I. has run one cover and roughly two dozen columns or posts featuring her. The company later amended her contract to let her respond to “legitimate press inquiries” about Mr. Trump.
Mr. Stris contends that his client was misled and that the contract was executed under fraudulent circumstances, giving her the right to sue in court rather than proceed in arbitration.