Days before Donald Trump is poised to accept the Republican presidential nomination, it emerged that he is suing a former campaign aide for $10 million.
The suit targets former senior consultant Sam Nunberg, a top aide who was fired last summer, of breaching a confidentiality agreement. Nunberg made that fight public in a court document filed Wednesday in New York Supreme Civil Court accusing Trump of trying to “use the sword of private arbitration proceeding against me to silence media coverage” of a “sordid and apparently illicit affair” between campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. He is asking that the suit be taken out of arbitration—a process that would be private—and into court.
One former staffer told The Daily Beast that he believes the suit against Nunberg is based on the Trump’s campaign’s concern that he could go public with more information. “Either they are afraid Nunberg knows other things (doubtful) or are just being stupid,” that former staffer emailed.
The timing for this legal battle is, at best, inconvenient for Trump, who is trying to line up the Republican party behind him after a bruising and divisive primary campaign. Now, instead of focusing solely on his vice presidential pick and presumed nomination at the Republican National Convention, Trump risks being dragged into the ugly details of an affair gone bust.
The filing cites a May 2016 New York Post story detailing a public “screaming match” between Hicks and Lewandowski, quoting several sources to describe the campaign’s “internal discord.”
According to Nunberg, the campaign alleges he fed the Post the story of the public spat—a charge he denied in Wednesday’s court papers.
In those documents, Nunberg alleged that several people, including “another Trump staffer,” saw the “lovers’ quarrel,” between Hicks and Lewandowski.
Nunberg did not return a request for comment left on his voicemail on Wednesday. When The Daily Beast sent a followup text, Nunberg responded: “I am not guilty. I am beautiful.” Nunberg then referred further questions to his lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg.
“[T]he threat of legal action has not stopped Nunberg from speaking his mind about Trump since he was fired from the campaign in August [of 2015]. In December 2015, Nunberg told The Daily Beast, ‘I do not think that he will win.’ Also in 2015, Trump mailed Nunberg a cease and desist notice.”
After Nunberg began publicly discussing the campaign’s prospects, Trump told The Daily Beast last December: “[Nunberg] is a highly self-destructive individual who makes routine calls begging for his job back. This is the interview of a desperate person who is trying to hang on and stay relevant.”
This lawsuit against Nunberg reflects Trump’s infamous litigiousness. As The Daily Beast documented last year, the real-estate mogul has sued or threatened to sue news outlets, from Univision to The New York Times; businesses, from a Georgia-based business card store to casinos; places, like New York City, the town of Palm Beach, and Scotland; and individual people, from his ex-wife Ivana Trump to his own hairdresser to rapper Mac Miller.
And the non-disclosure agreement Trump had Nunberg sign, similar to those that volunteers for the campaign must sign, is incredibly broad.
According to the agreement, an exhibit in the current case, Nunberg is barred from disclosing any confidential information he received during his involvement with the campaign which includes but is not limited to “actual or prospective business ventures, contracts, alliances, affiliations, relationships.” It also precludes Nunberg from demeaning Trump or his family as well as preventing him from assisting other candidates.
Trump began a private arbitration hearing with Nunberg on May 28, according to court documents, not long after a Daily Beast story that detailed Trump’s use of nondisclosure agreements—including one that Nunberg himself first signed in January of 2015. But that dispute only became public on Wednesday after Nunberg and his attorneys filed their response.
“The Trump campaign’s improper attempt to commence arbitration proceedings against Mr. Nunberg after the [consulting contract] was terminated was without basis in law or fact and was done in malicious retaliation for Mr. Nunberg’s subsequent change of political opinion,” the ex-aide’s petition states.
Furthermore, Nunberg alleges, Trump’s attempt to use private arbitration violates the former consultant’s “First Amendment right to abandon his political backing of Mr. Trump.”
Nunberg’s consulting agreement with Trump ended on Aug. 3, 2015, his lawyer contends—the day after he was fired from the campaign.
After leaving the Trump campaign, Nunberg publicly backed former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
Miltenberg wrote in Wednesday’s request for a stay of arbitration that seeking punitive damages for endorsing another candidate and using a “series of derogatory remarks concerning Mr. Trump,” is “hypocritical for a candidate who frequently describes his opponents as ‘losers,’ ‘crooked,’ ‘child molesters,’ and ‘liars.’”
Multiple sources close to the Trump campaign alleged there is some concern that details of the rumored relationship between Hicks and Lewandowski would come out if Nunberg’s case were to be heard in court, rather than at a private arbitration hearing.
While Miltenburg alleges that there was never an agreement to arbitrate, other Trump confidentiality agreements that have been made public dictate that disputes may be handled by the American Arbitration Association, which would keep the legal matters out of court and the information private.
The Trump campaign also filed for arbitration twice in this case. The first time was on May 28 and the most recent time was July 11. The second time they filed, the campaign went under the name of a fictitious entity “Trump 2012 PCA,” which Miltenberg claimed they used when Trump was considering a run for the presidency in 2012.
During the gap between the two arbitrations, Lewandowski was fired. He did not return multiple calls from The Daily Beast about the litigation.
Citing a specific clause in New York General Business Law, Miltenberg argues that pursuing the arbitration under the name “Trump 2012 PCA” is illegal “unless acknowledged certificates are filed in the county clerk’s office where the business is conducted identifying the persons conducting such business under that name.”
Trump’s lawyers tried to explain the use of “Trump 2012 PCA” in his second arbitration by saying “Trump 2012 supports the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the presidency of the United States.”
Miltenberg argues that “it is preposterous to permit a supporter of the Trump Campaign to sue on behalf of the Trump Campaign.”
In the response, Nunberg also contends that Lewandowski clashed with him after Nunberg helped get him hired and that the former campaign manager “sought to create a wall between Mr. Trump and all campaign staffers.”
The internal warfare within the Trump campaign had been previously reported, with specific instances of disagreements between Lewandowski and new campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
But this is the first time that strife among staffers could get played out in court.
Nunberg also alleges that when his years-old Facebook posts were exposed by Business Insider last year, Lewandowski was the one who pushed for Nunberg to be fired.
When Lewandowski himself—a highly divisive figure within the campaign—was fired almost a year later, one person close to the campaign referred to him as a “psychopath” who was only interested in being close to Trump and “holding power.”
Hicks responded to inquiries about the arbitration by saying she is staying out of the matter and that any questions would have to be directed to Trump’s lawyers. Those lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment but Trump’s counsel Alan Garten later posted a statement on the campaign website saying: “As is standard practice for all major businesses, organizations and other entities dealing with proprietary information, Mr. Trump requires employees to sign and adhere to strict confidentiality agreements. When the agreements are not adhered to he will enforce them to the full extent of the law, and Mr. Trump’s litigation track record on such matters is outstanding.”
Echoing his employer, Garten couldn’t help but trash Nunberg too.
“With regard to Mr. Nunberg, this agreement specifically calls for arbitration, and Mr. Nunberg is simply looking for free publicity using categorically false claims,” he concluded.
—with additional reporting by Olivia Nuzzi
Editor’s Note: This story was updated July 13, 10:26 p.m.