Can Trump Be Sued? He Sure As Hell Doesn't Think So
If you ever wondered why a guy like Donald Trump would ever want to run for president, perhaps this is the answer. Currently, Trump is saying he's immune from a defamation lawsuit. More specifically, his claim is that as president, he's immune from civil lawsuits filed in state court, because that sort of thing would get in the way of his duties as president, and state courts don't have the standing to do it.
That's a pretty rich claim coming from a guy who has played golf 13 times in his nine weeks as president. But more than that, the Supreme Court actually handled a similar case in the not-so-distant past — and ruled that the president could in fact still be sued. The issue came up in 1997, when Paula Jones sued President Clinton for sexual harassment and the Supreme Court ruled that Clinton could not claim immunity.
Now, President Trump is facing a defamation charge from a former contestant on The Apprentice Summer Zervos. Zervos, in the run-up to the election, joined numerous other women who were claiming that then-candidate Trump had touched, kissed, or groped them against their will. Trump came out against Zervos, calling her claims "100 percent fabricated and made up" and calling her a "liar" in a series of tweets. When Trump refused to rescind the allegation that Zervos was a liar, she said that she had no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against him.
Now, I'm no legal scholar, but it appear that Trump is standing on pretty weak ground in saying that the president is immune from lawsuits like this. Marc Kasowitz, Trump's lawyer, claims that Clinton v. Jones in 1997 only applies to federal lawsuits, and that it leaves open the question of whether presidents are immune from suits filed in state courts. Clinton isn't the only president to have been sued in office, however, and all the precedents seem to point to Trump's lawyer being a bit overoptimistic.
Zervos launched her lawsuit just before the inauguration, and Trump's team of lawyers says that they want to settle the question of immunity as soon as possible — ostensibly so that they can get rid of this case, or at least table it until the end of his presidency. For a guy who had 75 lawsuits pending when he took office, this could be a huge weight off his chest — or rather, a huge relief to his bank account, as Trump tends to settle lawsuits quite frequently. If, on the other hand, the case comes down on Zervos' side, then perhaps the president would just have to cut into his golfing time. Sounds fair, right?