Politics

Trump Invokes Immunity In 'Apprentice' Lawsuit (Photos)

| by Michael Howard
Donald Trump in 2011Donald Trump in 2011

President Donald Trump's lawyers have asked a Manhattan judge to dismiss a civil lawsuit filed by a former "Apprentice" contestant on the grounds of presidential immunity.

In a court filing submitted by Marc Kasowitz -- who is also defending the president against allegations that the Trump campaign had inappropriate contact with Russian officials prior to the presidential election -- the defendant argues that a sitting president cannot be sued in a state court.

According to Politico, Kasowitz frames former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos' lawsuit as "a private witch-hunt" designed to injure the president and provoke impeachment hearings.

"Ms. Zervos and her counsel have openly conceded -- indeed, bragged -- that their true motivation is to use this action for political purposes as a pretext to obtain broad discovery that they hoped could be used in impeachment hearings to distract from the President’s agenda," the motion states.

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Zervos alleges that Trump kissed her on the mouth, groped her breasts and thrust his genitals toward her during the filming of the show. Trump has denied the allegations.

"This action should be dismissed without prejudice to Ms. Zervos refiling after the President completes his presidency because this State Court does not have jurisdiction to hear a civil action against a sitting President," Trump's lawyers wrote.

"This Court lacks the authority pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution to exercise jurisdiction in this case because a state court cannot control President Trump -- who uniquely embodies the Executive Branch -- or interfere with his ability to perform his duties."

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Invoking Clinton v. Jones, in which then-President Bill Clinton was sued by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, Trump's lawyers argue that only a federal court is equipped to oversee a civil case of this nature.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled at the time that a sitting president is not immune from civil lawsuits while in office, it left open the question of whether such lawsuits could be tried in state courts.

"If this action is not temporarily stayed, it will disrupt and impair the President’s ability to discharge his Article II responsibilities," Kasowitz wrote. "Indeed, numerous commentators have concluded that allowing Clinton v. Jones to proceed was in error."

Zervos' lawsuit was filed in January by well-known women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred. Rather than claim damages from the alleged sexual harassment, the complaint accuses Trump of damaging Zervos' reputation by calling her a liar on the campaign trail. She said she only wants to restore her reputation and is not interested in money.

Responding to the defamation charge, Kasowitz argued that Trump's controversial statements about his accusers should not be taken literally.

"The allegedly defamatory statements [by Mr. Trump] were made during a national political campaign that involved heated public debate in political forums," he wrote, according to the Independent. "Statements made in that context are properly viewed by courts as part of the expected fiery rhetoric, hyperbole and opinion that is squarely protected by the First Amendment."

During the presidential campaign, Trump called the women accusing him of sexual harassment and sexual assault "liars," "crazy," "sick" and "fame-hungry." He also suggested that they were not attractive enough to be targeted.

"You take a look. Look at her. Look at her words," he said at one point. "You tell me what you think. I don’t think so."

Sources: Politico, The Independent / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, CBCMike Blake/Reuters via NBC News

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