With three days to go before his inauguration, Donald Trump is being sued for defamation by a woman who accused him of sexually inappropriate conduct, according to attorney-to-the-stars Gloria Allred, who announced the lawsuit at a press conference this afternoon.
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on season five of The Apprentice, first came forward in October to accuse the GOP nominee of sexual assault. Following her short stint on the reality show, Zervos said she approached Mr. Trump about job opportunities in 2007, but instead of being offered employment, Zervos claimed, Trump groped her.
“Ms. Zervos was ambushed by Mr. Trump on more than one occasion,” the complaint states. “Mr. Trump suddenly, and without her consent, kissed her on her mouth repeatedly; he touched her breast; and he pressed his genitals up against her. Ms. Zervos never consented to any of this disgusting touching.”
Zervos came forward after the infamous Access Hollywood tapes were made public, in which Trump remarked to host Billy Bush that his celebrity meant he could “just start kissing [women]...I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
“For the first time,” the lawsuit alleges, Zervos “saw Mr. Trump’s behavior towards her for what it was: that of a sexual predator who had preyed on her and other women.”
Trump's presidential transition team spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the suit was “more of the same from Gloria Allred. There is no truth to this absurd story.”
In response to Zervos' original claims, Trump released a statement to People saying that he “vaguely remembered” her and denied ever meeting her at a hotel or groping her. “That is not who I am as a person, and it is not how I’ve conducted my life,” the statement said.
Further, Trump insisted, Zervos had contacted him recently for help and a request to visit her restaurant. The presidential candidate then released a statement from a cousin of Zervos expressing shock at the allegations.
Zervos’s defamation suit rests on the claim that Trump’s denial was not only knowingly untrue, but was made with the knowledge that it would be heard by millions, and would do irreparable harm, subjecting Zervos and the other women to “threats of violence, economic harm, and reputational damage,” the lawsuit claims. Her claim, for emotional harm and economic damage, seeks an undisclosed sum in compensatory and punitive damages.
But Zervos, whom Allred said had volunteered and passed a lie detector test, said she’d settle for a retraction. If Trump would “simply retract his false and defamatory statements about me and acknowledge I told the truth about him,” Zervos said, she would drop her lawsuit.
Zervos is one of a dozen women who came forward in 2016 before the presidential election to accuse Trump of unwanted kissing, groping, fondling, leering, or some other non-consensual sexual advances.
During the campaign, Trump loudly and characteristically denied the mounting allegations, often against the guidance of his advisors. “My people always say, don't talk about it, talk about jobs, talk about the economy,” Trump said at an October rally in Greensboro, North Carolina. “But I feel I have to talk about it, because you have to dispute when somebody says something.”
He went on: “These are lies being pushed by the media and the Clinton campaign to try and keep their grip on our country. They are all false. They're totally invented, fiction, all 100 percent totally and completely fabricated. I never met this person, these people. I don't know who they are...I don't know who these people are. I look on television, I think it's a disgusting thing and it's being pushed. They have no witnesses. There's nobody around. They just come out—some are doing it for probably a little fame. They get some free fame. It's a total setup.”
Trump also attacked the women personally, often on their appearance, ostensibly arguing his accusers were too ugly to be assaulted by him.
“She’s a liar. She is a liar,” he said of former People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff, who alleged Trump had forcibly kissed her and propositioned her during a 2005 visit to Mar-a-Lago where she was on assignment for a story about the real-estate mogul and his new (and pregnant) wife, Melania. “Check out [Stoynoff’s] Facebook page, you'll understand,” Trump added.
Of Jessica Leeds, who told The New York Times that she had been groped on an airplane by Trump in the 1980s, he joked to a snickering crowd, “When you looked at that horrible woman last night, you said, ‘I don't think so, I don't think so.’ … Yeah, I'm going to go after you. Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.”
And yet the women kept coming. Teen beauty pagent contestants who accused Trump of leering at them while they changed in the dressing room, a photography assistant who claimed she was grabbed, and the adult film star who says the future president offered to pay her for sex.
"Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign," Trump said later in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. "Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."
Trump has not as of yet sued anyone. And if he assumed a November win would mean an end to the accusations, it seems he was mistaken.
“Oh, he can still be sued,” said Michael Gerhardt, a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill.
Ironically, the Supreme Court unanimously decided a sitting president was not above the law in a 1997 ruling that allowed Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton to move forward.
Because Trump is undoubtedly the most sued person to ever take the oath of office, it’s no surprise that he has already tested the limits of a civil court's power over a soon-to-be-sitting president. Before the President-elect paid out $25 million to settle three separate lawsuits against Trump University in November, his attorneys argued that he’d be far too busy with presidential duties to go through the rigors of trial, an argument dismissed by a California judge citing the Paula Jones verdict, which states that a judge is capable of scheduling events so interference is minimal.
As far as the defamation claim, Gerhardt said they’ll have to show Trump intended to use information he know was false to the detriment of the plaintiff.
But the damage to Trump wouldn’t rest solely in a verdict against him. Should the lawsuit move forward, the threat of discovery—testimony and evidence gathered in during the litigation of a case—looms large for a man like Donald Trump. Investigating accusations of sexual misconduct by a man who lies extensively in public and who, behind closed doors, claims to “grab women by the pussy” without their consent, could be extensive and embarrassing.
In a previous statement, attorney Lisa Bloom, Allred’s daughter and an attorney for another woman who accused Trump of sexual misconduct this year, relished the possibility of bringing Trump to court, calling it a “field day,” because of the treasure trove of impropriety discovery might unearth.
“In that lawsuit I would take the deposition of Trump and all of his enablers, and subpoena his business and personal records as well as any recordings that may exist in which he brags about sexual assault, such as the Access Hollywood recording and potentially, the Apprentice raw footage,” the statement read in part.
And finally, there’s a chance that whatever Allred’s team finds could warrant an impeachment, as it did for Bill Clinton. “We just don’t know yet,” Gerhardt said. “We don’t know whether Trump will answer truthfully under oath, or about the quality of evidence being put forward.”
But barring a dismissal of the lawsuit, and regardless of the upcoming inauguration, the evidence will be coming. “We’ve given him two months [to retract]. Time is up,” Allred said this afternoon.
“It is time for Trump to answer the allegations in a court of law, rather than in his bedroom by tweeting in the middle of the night.”