Lawyers representing President Donald Trump are urging the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a former contestant on the Apprentice reality show, who alleges Trump smeared her reputation on the campaign trail after she came forward to accuse him of sexual assault.
The president has previously argued for the loosening of libel laws to make it easier for Trump to sue journalists who publish reports he doesn’t like. But in this case, the First Amendment suits Trump just fine. Trump’s lawyers are arguing he was simply saying what he needed to say to win his campaign.
Summer Zervos, who appeared on the fifth season of the reality show, filed suit against Trump in January. Her suit does not center on the sexual assault accusations themselves; instead, Zervos accuses Trump of defaming her after she went public with her accusations by questioning her character.
In a 53-page filing submitted late Friday in New York state court, Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz argues Zervos’ suit should be dismissed because a sitting president cannot be sued through the state court system. According to a 1997 Supreme Court ruling, presidents can be sued for their private conduct while in the White House, but Kasowitz maintains that ruling was narrowly limited to cases brought in federal court.
In case this argument doesn’t hold, Kasowitz — who has reportedly taken on an outsized role in the White House as Trump’s personal lawyer, and who is also representing him in the ongoing investigation regarding alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election — also counters Zervos herself.
Kasowitz writes that Zervos doesn’t have enough evidence to allege defamation, and defends the president’s rhetoric toward his accusers as within First Amendment bounds for “hyperbole and opinion.” He also reiterates the president’s position that Zervos’ accusations are false and that her lawsuit is an attempt to damage his presidency.
Zervos came forward in October with her version of the alleged assault. In a press conference alongside prominent lawyer Gloria Allred — who represents several of the women who have accused Trump of assault, as well as several women who have accused Bill Cosby of similar crimes — Zervos recounted two encounters from 2007 during which she says Trump kissed her, groped her, and thrust his genitals on her without her consent.
Zervos was one of several women who stepped forward during the 2016 presidential campaign to publicly accuse Trump of sexual assault and harassment after the publication of an Access Hollywood tape that depicted Trump bragging about assaulting women.
In response, Trump accused the women of lying and seeking attention, and suggested some of them were too ugly for him to assault. He said his accusers were “telling totally false stories.”
In the filing, Kasowitz argues these type of statements from Trump cannot be considered defamatory because they were “nothing more than heated campaign rhetoric designed to persuade the public audience that Mr. Trump should be elected president irrespective of what the media and his opponents had claimed over his 18-month campaign.” Kasowitz adds that Trump’s comments on the trail are “part of the expected fiery rhetoric, hyperbole and opinion that is squarely protected by the First Amendment.”
Although Trump repeatedly promised during his campaign to produce concrete evidence that these alleged assaults did not occur in the way the women claim they did, he did not provide meaningful proof.
Gloria Allred did not immediately respond to Trump’s court filing on Friday. Allred has previously suggested she is hoping Trump will testify under oath in response to Zervos’ accusations; both Allred and Zervos say they’ll drop the case if the president retracts his statements that his accusers are liars.