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Trump lawyer presses argument for presidential immunity in defamation case

Nina Agrawal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

NEW YORK -- An attorney for President Donald Trump asked a New York state judge Tuesday to set aside a suit brought by a woman who claims Trump groped her a decade ago, saying that a trial in state court would improperly interfere with his duties as chief executive.

Judge Jennifer Schecter heard arguments from Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, and Mariann Wang, an attorney for Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice" who has alleged that Trump kissed her and touched her inappropriately during meetings in 2007 at Trump Tower and at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

In her lawsuit, Zervos claims Trump defamed her last year when he labeled her and other women who accused him of sexual misconduct as liars.

Kasowitz argued that Trump's comments were protected by the First Amendment and that a state court doesn't have the authority to hear the case during his presidency. Wang said the defamatory comments were not protected and a state court does have such authority.

Zervos can't sue Trump for sexual harassment because the time limit for such a case has expired. Pursuing the defamation case, however, could lead to airing of the underlying sexual harassment allegations.

The suit could also jeopardize Trump in the way that a similar case by Paula Jones jeopardized then-President Bill Clinton -- by forcing him to answer questions under oath. Clinton's false statements in Jones' case provided the basis for the impeachment charges that were brought against him in 1998.

 

Being required to testify under oath could be particularly dangerous for Trump, given his history of saying things that are untrue, said Naomi Mezey, a Georgetown University law professor.

"For those people who are interested in this case as a path to impeachment, the chances of perjury in a Trump case are possibly greater than in a Clinton case," Mezey said. "Testifying in a lawsuit takes a huge amount of discipline. If there's one characteristic that seems absent from the Trump personality, it's verbal discipline."

Zervos first spoke publicly about her contacts with Trump in October 2016, after an "Access Hollywood" videotape surfaced in which Trump spoke about being able to grab women by the genitals.

Trump vigorously denied the accusations by Zervos and other women, repeatedly describing them as "fabrication" and "made-up stories and lies," at one point threatening to sue the women.

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