Donald Trump, Fan of Libel Suits, Says He’s Immune From Them as President

Attorney Gloria Allred says the president isn’t above the law

Donald Trump likes libel lawsuits. He has filed seven in his lifetime (losing or settling six) and said as a candidate that he wants to “open up” libel laws to make news outlets easier to sue.

But now that he’s in the White House, he claims he’s protected from defamation lawsuits filed against him, at least for the length of his presidency.

In court papers filed in New York late Monday, Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, argued that a defamation lawsuit filed against Trump by a former contestant from NBC’s “The Apprentice” reality television show must be put on hold until Trump leaves public office.

The former contestant, Summer Zervos, sued Trump just before he was sworn into office in January. She claimed in her New York court lawsuit that Trump defamed her by disputing her claims that he groped her while she worked on “The Apprentice” with Trump.

Now the president is arguing that the U.S. Constitution creates a special protection for presidents sued by private citizens in state courts. He is not arguing that he cannot be sued at all; he says the lawsuit should be dismissed or delayed until he leaves the presidency, which, if he wins a second term, would protect him until January 2025.

Donald Trump likes libel lawsuits. He has filed seven in his lifetime (losing six) and said as a candidate that he wants to “open up” libel laws to make news outlets easier to sue.

But now that he’s in the White House, he claims he’s protected from defamation lawsuits filed against him, at least for the length of his presidency.

In court papers filed in New York late Monday, Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, argued that a defamation lawsuit filed against Trump by a former contestant from NBC’s “The Apprentice” reality television show must be put on hold until Trump leaves public office.

The former contestant, Summer Zervos, sued Trump just before he was sworn into office in January. She claimed in her New York court lawsuit that Trump defamed her by disputing her claims that he groped her while she worked on “The Apprentice” with Trump.

Now the president is arguing that the U.S. Constitution creates a special protection for presidents sued by private citizens in state courts. He is not arguing that he cannot be sued at all; he says the lawsuit should be delayed until he leaves the presidency, which, if he wins a second term, would protect him until January 2025.

“President Trump intends to file a motion to dismiss or stay this action until he leaves office on the ground that the United States Constitution, including the Supremacy Clause, immunizes President Trump from being sued in this action while he is in office,” Trump argued in his motion.

Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing Zervos, said in a written statement that the Supreme Court has already “determined unanimously that no man is above the law and that includes the President of the United States.”

“Summer seeks vindication of her rights and reputation for what we allege was personal misconduct by then candidate Trump prior to his having been elected to the office of the President of the United States,” Allred said.

Zervos alleges in her lawsuit that “candidate Donald Trump called her a liar and unfairly and wrongfully maligned her during his campaign because she had alleged that he had sexually assaulted her,” Allred said.

Trump argued in his court papers that the Zervos lawsuit and others like it “frequently could distract a President from his public duties, to the detriment of not only the President and his office but also the Nation that the President was designed to serve.”

President Bill Clinton did not have much luck when he made a similar argument when he was fighting a civil lawsuit as president. Clinton was sued by Paula Jones for alleged sexual misconduct when he was governor of Arkansas, and he argued that the constitution’s Supremacy Clause protected him from any civil lawsuits brought against him by private citizens until he left the White House.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Clinton’s argument, saying that the constitution only bars civil lawsuits by private citizens who challenge a president’s officials acts.  The court thought it unlikely that a sitting president would be dogged by numerous civil lawsuits from private citizens challenging his conduct as a private citizen.

Trump is relying on an obscure passage from the Supreme Court’s decision, which said it was permitting the Jones lawsuit to proceed in part because it was in federal court. But the court noted that it was not sure Jones’ case would be allowed to proceed if it had been filed in state court. A federal court has co-equal power with the executive branch under the constitutional system of three co-equal branches of federal government, but a New York state court does not have that kind of equal power with the federal government.

Trump’s lawyer, Kasowitz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.

Trump and his companies have filed seven libel and other speech-related lawsuits over the past 30 years, but never won a case that was filed in a public court. They can claim victory in only one case — the one filed against Miss Pennsylvania, who lost because she did not show up in court.

The other six lawsuits filed by Trump were either dismissed by a court or settled. Among those at the receiving end of Trump speech-related lawsuits are HBO host Bill Maher; the Chicago Tribune; “TrumpNation” book author Timothy O’Brien and his publisher, Time Warner Books; two labor unions in Las Vegas; and a former yoga instructor who sued Trump and his Trump University for fraud.

Just 10 days before being sworn into office, Trump won dismissal of libel lawsuit filed by political strategist Cheryl Jacobus, who said he falsely tweeted that she she “begged” him for a job.

Trump also tried to stall a class-action fraud case against him and his Trump University several days after being elected. But the federal court in San Diego refused to put the case on hold, and Trump settled the case for $25 million about two months before being sworn into office.

Kasowitz has been on the front lines of threatening to file libel lawsuits against the press on behalf of Trump.

The New York lawyer wrote a cease-and-desist letter to the New York Times on Oct. 12, 2016, threatening to sue the newspaper for publishing an article about two women who claimed they were groped by Trump. “Your article is reckless, defamatory,  and constitutes libel per se,”  Kasowitz wrote on behalf of Trump.

Kasowitz wrote an earlier letter threatening legal action against the Times earlier that month, saying the paper’s publication of Trump’s leaked state income tax returns was “illegal.”

Trump did not sue the Times for either story.

In September, Trump’s wife, Melania, sued the Daily Mail tabloid in a Maryland state court over an article that included “false and defamatory statements,” including one that she had once been an escort. The tabloid published a retraction. The Maryland court said it did not have jurisdiction, and the first lady then filed another case in Manhattan.

She also sued a Maryland blogger who published similar claims, and the blogger, Webster G. Tarpley, agreed to pay “a substantial sum as a settlement,” according to Melania Trump’s lawyer, Charles Harder. Tarpley also retracted the post and apologized.