President Donald Trump has shielded himself for nearly four years against lawsuits from women who have accused him of sexual assault, but now that he lost reelection, Trump will have to face them.
In one lawsuit, writer E. Jean Carroll accuses Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the mid 1990s.
In a second lawsuit, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos accuses Trump of unwanted sexual touching.
According to Mother Jones, “Legal experts say that both women’s cases could proceed quickly once Trump returns to civilian life,” which means “the soon-to-be-former president could imminently face the question of either settling their claims or going to trial over the truth of their allegations.”
Zervos sued Trump for defamation after he tweeted that her allegations, and those from other accusers, were “100% fabricated and made-up.”
Since then, Zervos’ case has “lingered in the courts for a significantly longer time than you would typically expect of a defamation lawsuit,” says Amy Kristin Sanders, a media law expert and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Again, Trump’s office protected him. A few months after Zervos filed her case, Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz debuted an argument he has since returned to repeatedly, insisting that the Constitution prevents a sitting president from being sued in state court.
Neither the trial court judge nor a state appeals court was convinced. (Nor was the US Supreme Court when Trump tried to block a grand jury from subpoenaing his tax records using a very similar argument.)
The argument failed, but Trump was able to delay the lawsuit by appealing the decisions over and over again, also delaying a deposition with Zervos’ lawyers.
During a pretrial deposition, Trump would “certainly” be asked under oath about whether he sexually assaulted Zervos, Sanders says. Plus, any deposition is an unwelcome prospect for a legal team whose client has a well-established inability to keep his mouth shut. “He’s a loose cannon,” she says. “You have no idea what he’s going to say. You have no idea what he could open himself up to.”
At present, “Zervos’ case is on hold while the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, considers Kasowitz’s presidential immunity argument,” Mother Jones reported, but Kaplan predicts that his appeal will be dismissed once Trump leaves office.
As for Carroll, she not only wants to depose Trump but also secure his DNA sample.
Shortly after she filed her lawsuit (a judge ultimately permitted her to serve Trump by mail), her legal team asked a lab to look for genetic material on a black Donna Karan dress she says she was wearing when Trump allegedly raped her. The results turned up unidentified male DNA, which, if matched to Trump, could help convince a jury that her allegations were true.
Trump was unsuccessful in attempting to have Carroll’s case delayed until New York’s high court ruled on presidential immunity, but the Justice Department stepped in to save the day, Mother Jones reported.
At the request of the White House, DOJ lawyers argued that Carroll’s suit rightfully should be against the United States government, not Trump personally, because he was acting within the scope of his employment when he called her a liar and said she was “not my type.”
But so far, the move has not panned out: “On October 26, a federal judge ruled that the president didn’t count as a government employee—and even if he did, Trump’s statements about Carroll weren’t employment-related.”
Mother Jones noted that settling these two cases might be attractive to Trump. If he opts against that, the allegations of sexual assault will be fully aired at trial.
“Anytime you have a defamation lawsuit, we always have to look at the incidents that underlie the alleged defamatory statements,” Sanders says. “Fundamentally, this defamation case will hinge on how much evidence is there that they didn’t lie, that these incidents actually took place.” According to Kaplan, Carroll is open to a settlement only if it allows her to keep talking and writing about what Trump allegedly did to her.
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