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Trump lawyer presses argument for presidential immunity in defamation case

Nina Agrawal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

In a complaint filed in January, attorneys Gloria Allred and Wang said that Trump "used his national and international bully pulpit to make false factual statements to denigrate and verbally attack Ms. Zervos and the other women who publicly reported his sexual assaults," causing "serious harm" to her reputation, honor and dignity. In addition to damages, the lawsuit seeks a retraction and apology by Trump.

In briefs and before the court on Tuesday, Kasowitz argued that the case should be dismissed or at least stayed until Trump leaves office. The then-presidential candidate's statements were political speech and statements of opinion protected by the First Amendment, he argued.

In a twist of history, Kasowitz has invoked the same legal argument that attorneys for Clinton did 20 years ago, when he was accused of sexual harassment by Jones -- that a sitting president is immune from lawsuits regarding his conduct before he took office.

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the chief executive is not shielded from responding to a civil suit regarding his private behavior. Trump's lawyer argued that ruling should only apply to suits in federal court, not state courts.

The Constitution makes clear that "federal law and the execution of federal law, for which the president is uniquely and 24/7 responsible, takes precedence over state law," Kasowitz said.

Wang said Kasowitz was making some "creative arguments."

 

"There is no case that says a federal official cannot be called to account in a state court," she said.

Three law professors who submitted friend-of-the-court briefs 20 years ago in the Clinton case and now in the Trump case have argued the same.

"No one in our nation is above the law, not even our President," Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania, Richard Parker of Harvard and Lucas Power of the University of Texas wrote in the brief filed earlier this year.

Nothing in the Constitution "immunizes a sitting President from claims brought in state court based on allegations of unofficial conduct," they wrote.

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