Lawyers for Donald J. Trump and former reality-show contestant Summer Zervos appeared before a New York state judge today in a hearing that could affect the future of Trump’s presidency.
Trump’s legal team, led by shock-haired “pit bull” Marc Kasowitz, argued in court today that a defamation lawsuit filed on behalf of Summer Zervos, who says the president groped her years ago after she appeared on season five of The Apprentice, should be dismissed.
Zervos came forward in October 2016 to allege her former reality-show boss had kissed her on the mouth without her consent, groped her breasts, and pressing his genitals up against her. After Trump responded by saying she was lying, Zervos sued.
Standing before Judge Jennifer Schecter in the New York Supreme Court, Kasowitz said that Zervos’ lawsuit was based on false accusations, and that her claims and the lawsuit were politically motivated. Further, Trump’s attorneys said, the president’s speech was “political speech,” and as such, protected by the First Amendment. If all else failed, Kasowitz offered that Trump’s new position as president immunized him against a civil lawsuit in state court.
Citing the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, Kasowitz said Zervos’ case should only be allowed to proceed after Trump was no longer president.
Zervos’ co-counsel, Mariann Meier Wang, countered that Trump, president or no, “was not above the law.” (Gloria Allred, who convened news conferences for several other women to tell stories of Trump’s alleged groping in the run-up to the campaign, is also representing Zervos and sat beside her in court today.)
“What better court to hear a defamation case of a born-and-bred New Yorker,” who allegedly made his defaming comments from his building in New York, Wang asked Judge Schecter. Further, Wang noted that a stay in the case could mean a delay of seven years (should Trump be reelected), during which time evidence could be lost or destroyed, and witnesses’ memories might fade.
Addressing the concern that a lawsuit might be burdensome to the president, Wang noted President Trump’s extensive leisure time, and offered to schedule a deposition at Mar-a-Lago, “in between rounds of golf,” a suggestion which invited sniggers from the room of journalists packed to hear the afternoon’s arguments.
Arguing that the case should be allowed to proceed, Zervos’ lawyers cited the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1997 decision that allowed Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton to move forward. Clinton lied about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky under oath during his testimony in that lawsuit, which prompted Congress to impeach.
The connection isn’t lost on Allred, who separately has been an outspoken critic of Trump. In a carefully worded interview with the Washington Post, Allred said “I am not suggesting [Trump] will lie under oath,” while noting that perjury is considered a high crime and misdemeanor and an impeachable offense.
Besides seeking nominal damages (the complaint only cites $3,000 in economic losses) the suit is also a creative legal maneuver that allows Zervos and her attorneys a chance to prove her allegations are true, by potentially deposing the president, and making public documents concerning Trump and his treatment of women as well as behind the scenes footage from The Apprentice, that could potentially prove embarrassing to the 45th president.
Zervos’ allegations came on the heels of the leak of 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.”
“Ms. Zervos was ambushed by Mr. Trump on more than one occasion,” Zervos’ 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.”
During the Presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump responded to the accusations from Zervos and roughly a dozen other women—on Twitter, of course—by calling them “100% fabricated and made-up charges, pushed strongly by the media and the Clinton Campaign.”
On Facebook, Trump addressed Zervos directly, saying, “To be clear, I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago. That is not who I am as a person, and it is not how I’ve conducted my life.”
"Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign," Trump said later at a rally 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 filed suit against any of the dozen women who accused him of sexual misconduct.
“After he called me a liar I was threatened, bullied and saw my business targeted. I also suffered other repercussions, all because I chose to speak out and tell the truth,” Zervos wrote in a sworn statement to the court.
Zervos is demanding Trump just retract his statements against her and the other women, writing in her statement that until he does, “I will continue to speak out and tell the truth.”
Judge Schecter’s decision could come any time.