President Donald Trump is trying to dodge a defamation lawsuit filed by a former contestant on “The Apprentice” by claiming the Constitution grants the president immunity against civil claims.
Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, argued in a court filing this week that a Supreme Court hearing on a sexual harassment lawsuit against former President Bill Clinton sets precedent for such protection. That’s a bizarre claim, because Clinton’s attempt to declare presidential immunity was unanimously rejected by the high court.
Summer Zervos, who claims Trump sexually assaulted her in a hotel room in 2007, filed the defamation suit in January, after Trump publicly branded Zervos and other accusers as liars. He said during the final presidential debate that the women just wanted “10 minutes of fame,” according to court documents.
In a Manhattan Supreme Court filing on Monday, Kasowitz said Trump “intends to file a motion to dismiss this action” on the grounds that the Constitution “immunizes the president from being sued in state court while in office.”
The “supremacy clause” Kasowitz cites doesn’t say that. It establishes that federal law generally takes precedence over state law. Kasowitz correctly notes that his interpretation of the clause has been heard by the Supreme Court before: during the sexual harassment suit filed against Clinton in 1994.
But the Supreme Court declared unanimously that nobody ― including the commander-in-chief ― is above civil law, even if it’s unrelated to presidential business. In a 9-0 decision, the court ruled that Clinton accuser Paula Corbin Jones could continue with her lawsuit. The suit was later thrown out by a federal judge on different grounds.
Kasowitz, who didn’t return calls for comment, isn’t looking to challenge the Supreme Court ruling. He said in his motion he just wants the trial court to “follow the procedure followed in Clinton v. Jones ― which the Supreme Court approved ― to first adjudicate the threshold issue of Presidential immunity before reaching motions to dismiss” Zervos’ lawsuit.
Zervos’ lawyer, Gloria Allred, isn’t having it.
“We do not believe that the President of the United States enjoys legal immunity from our defamation lawsuit,” Allred said in an emailed statement. “The United States Supreme Court addressed this legal immunity issue in Clinton v. Jones and determined unanimously that no man is above the law and that includes the President of the United States.”
Zervos seeks $2,914 in damages. It wasn’t clear when Trump would file his motion to dismiss her lawsuit.