Trump Pulls a Slick Willie Defense
From the candidate who returned Paula Jones to the national stage to the president who says he’s too busy to be held accountable for his private actions in just 70 days.
We all assume that it’s Russia that will bring this president down, and that is certainly a reasonable assumption. We already know that he coordinated with Russia, because he did so openly, urging the Kremlin to hack his opponent. But if evidence emerges that he and his team did more behind closed doors, what with his numerous and vehement denials, he’s done.
So let’s put Russia at the top of the pole—while not forgetting that there are other contenders for the title of Trump Finisher-Offer. For my money the second spot has to be occupied by the women who accuse Trump of pursuing them sexually in ways they did not seek, desire, or enjoy. Remember last October, when all those women came forward? Remember how Trump said they were all liars? Remember how he was going to sue them? Yeah. Right.
Well, one of those women is suing him now, for calling her a liar, and, true to form, Trump and his lawyers are arguing the exact opposite of the legal truth.
Summer Zervos, a past contestant on The Apprentice, alleges that Trump “ambushed” her “on more than one occasion” (so hard to believe!). At issue in the federal courts in New York this past week has been the question of whether a sitting president should have to endure such a trial. And Trump’s lawyers cited Clinton v. Jones in arguing that the Constitution “immunizes President Trump from being sued in this action while he is in office.”
As all of us who wrote about (or merely paid attention) to politics 20 years ago know, the Supreme Court took precisely the opposite opinion in the Jones decision. It ruled—unanimously—that a sitting president is not immune from civil legal action over a matter that happened before he held office and was unrelated to the job of the presidency.
It was a bad decision then, and it’s bad law now. The emblematic quote came from liberal justice John Paul Stevens, writing (quite naively) for the Court that the Jones lawsuit “appears to us highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount” of Clinton’s time.
But the fact is that it’s law. And if it applied to Clinton, it sure applies to Trump.
Yet here are his lawyers saying the opposite. Well, I guess if Trump can say the evidence proves that his inaugural was the biggest ever and that millions of people voted against him illegally, his lawyers can certainly say this.
More broadly, on the topic of Trump and women, we seem to have forgotten all about what a cad he was (generous application of past-tense there). A few weeks ago I was in New York and I was walking past a construction site on Fifth Avenue. The plywood boards were up so passersby couldn’t see what was going on. And on the plywood sheets, I noticed some handbills with Trump’s picture. They were done up to look “classy” in the well-known Trump way: strong typeface, black background, gold lettering.
I saw his headshot but couldn’t read the text below. Then when I got close enough, I saw what it said. I’m not remembering the exact order here, but it was the Access Hollywood quotes: I moved on her like a bitch. I did try and fuck her—she was married. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
There were probably 20 of them, four across and five tall. It was quite a sight. And it struck me that I hadn’t even thought about those quotes in months, because he says so many appalling things, utters so many lies, that an appalling thing we heard five months ago is like four million disgusting statements ago, so it washed down the toilet long ago.
But it’s worth being reminded of those remarks from time to time. And we all but know there are more of them, probably on tape somewhere. Some of them may yet come out. And Ms. Zervos’s lawsuit may well progress, and who knows, the president may have to take the stand, although he’ll undoubtedly settle while tweeting a) his innocence and b) slurs against her character.
And finally, it’s worth remembering, the Jones decision may have much broader implications for Trump than solely having to do with sex. Remember that he agreed to those Trump University settlements just days before his inaugural (gee, if his lawyers thought then that the Constitution immunized the president against such proceedings, why’d he settle?). In addition, he was the target of some 75 civil lawsuits on the day he took the oath of office.
Small wonder that his lawyers argued what they argued this week. If any of these lawsuits start making their way through the pipeline, we’re going to see yet another new and humiliating Trump precedent set—a president enmeshed in lawsuit after lawsuit alleging him to be either a sexual predator or chiseler. Getting used to it doesn’t mean we have to stop being outraged by it.