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On a consequential day in the presidency of Donald Trump, including news that his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen pled guilty to violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to women, Apprentice season five contestant Summer Zervos has told a New York judge that Trump is refusing to produce documents or information concerning his sexual conduct towards women.
Zervos sued Trump in January 2017 just days before Trump took his oath of office. She alleges that Trump defamed her during the 2016 presidential campaign by denying her accusations of a decade-old sexual assault with a tweet how it was “100% fabricated and made-up.” On Tuesday, Zervos’ attorneys asked a New York state judge to order Trump to comply with discovery requests.
In an attempt to boost her case, Zervos is probing Trump’s relationship with women. That includes about a dozen other accusers who told The New York Times in 2016 that they, too, experienced inappropriate sexual behavior from Trump. But it also now includes women, including Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who agreed to confidentiality around their own affairs with Trump.
“The discovery Ms. Zervos seeks concerning other women who have reported Defendant’s illicit sexual conduct is discoverable for several reasons,” writes Zervos attorney Mariann Wang in court papers. “It is relevant to rebutting Defendant’s defense that the defamatory statements were substantially true as a whole. It is relevant to Defendant’s pattern of behavior with respect to luring women under false pretenses and intentionally subjecting them to sudden sexual contact. It is relevant to proving both that Defendant made his defamatory statements with common-law malice, such that Plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages, and that Defendant acted with actual malice, which Defendant contends (incorrectly; but that is for the Court to decide later) is necessary for there to be liability. And it is relevant to Defendant’s credibility.”
Trump looked to head off the legal battle by pointing to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and arguing he was immunized from being sued in state court while in office. At a hearing, Zervos’ attorney pointed to Clinton v. Jones, where the Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that a sitting president can’t escape private litigation, and promised to accommodate him. “We can certainly ensure that we take a deposition down at Mar-a-Lago in between his playing golf,” said Wang.
In March, New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer Schecter allowed the lawsuit to proceed and refused to stop discovery. “No one is above the law,” she wrote.
Marc Kasowitz, attorney for Trump, attempted to get a New York appeals court to intervene, but those efforts were rebuffed, leading to the first round of the discovery fight.
Now comes Zervos’ motion to compel just weeks before the U.S. Senate takes up Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who, after participating in Kenneth Starr’s 1990’s investigation of Bill Clinton, expressed support for providing sitting presidents with a temporary deferral of civil suits.
Right around the exact moment that Cohen appeared in federal court and said he paid women hush money at Trump’s direction, Zervos was submitting her own bid for more information in state court. The court papers nod to Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape where he boasted to Billy Bush about grabbing women’s genitals.
“Surely it would be relevant, and a legitimate focus of cross-examination under this case law, if there were evidence supporting the conclusion that [Trump] knew that he routinely or frequently engaged in sexual groping or if he believes that because he is a ‘star,’ he is entitled to grope women sexually, knowing full well that they did not consent,” states Zervos’ court papers. “This line of inquiry hardly is a fishing expedition given that Defendant has been recorded boasting that this in fact is his longstanding practice and that numerous women have publicly described experiencing such behavior. To be sure, depending on the nature of the evidence that is adduced through discovery, the Court may or may not permit any such evidence to be admitted at trial. But there is no support for Defendant’s baseless position that evidence of his engagement in a widespread pattern of intentional sexual misconduct that is disturbingly similar to Ms. Zervos’s allegations in this case somehow is so out of bounds that he need not even respond to discovery.”
Trump’s lawyer will be filing responsive papers next month.
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