Lawyers for President Donald Trump argued in court Tuesday that a former “Apprentice” contestant should not be able to obtain information on his campaign’s discussions of other women who have also accused him of sexual misconduct.
The court hearing was the first since a Manhattan judge turned down Trump’s bid to dismiss Summer Zervos’ defamation lawsuit or delay it until after his presidency. Zervos has sued the president for saying her sexual misconduct claims were lies.
“It’s a defamation case,” Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz told Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter. As for information about other women who aren’t part of the case, “those claims, that evidence … is irrelevant,” he said.
Mariann Wang, the lawyer representing Zervos, said outside court that the other women’s accusations were indeed relevant: “It’s a defamation case, so we are required to prove the falsity of the statements, and his statements include statements about other women.”
Trump also faces lawsuits by Stephanie Clifford, a porn actress known professionally as Stormy Daniels, for defamation and release from her nondisclosure agreement on her alleged relationship with him.
Zervos’ lawyers have issued subpoenas seeking a range of information about Trump’s behavior toward women, including any “Apprentice” material that features Zervos or Trump talking about her or discussing other female contestants in a sexual or inappropriate way.
They also have requested any Trump campaign records concerning Zervos, any other woman who has accused Trump of inappropriate touching or the 2016 emergence of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump talking about aggressively groping women.
In addition, Zervos’ lawyers have subpoenaed security video, records of Trump’s stays and some other information from the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Zervos says Trump made some of his unwelcome advances toward her.
Trump’s lawyers are seeking a court order to keep documents and information private; the details are yet to be worked out.
It’s not uncommon for the opposing sides in a lawsuit to enter into such confidentiality agreements in order to facilitate the exchange of information, but Wang said Trump’s lawyers initially signaled they wanted something that would seal a swath of filings in the case.
Kasowitz said they would work out something narrower but were mindful of media interest and might seek additional protections “if such interest, as a matter of course, intrudes on the interests and rights of the litigants or looks like it would impair the ability to have a fair trial.”
The court hearing lasted less than an hour and mostly dealt with procedural issues such as deadlines and scheduling.
While Trump’s lawyers emphasized that they are continuing to ask appeals courts to toss out or postpone the case, the judge set deadlines for a number of information-gathering steps—including depositions of both Trump and Zervos by Jan. 29.
Kasowitz noted, however, that Trump might potentially need extensions on deadlines because of the “significant attendant duties” of the presidency.
Zervos, a California restaurateur, appeared in 2006 on Trump’s former reality show, “The Apprentice.” She says he subjected her to unwanted kissing and groping when she sought career advice in 2007.
She was among more than a dozen women who came forward late in the 2016 presidential campaign to say that Trump had sexually harassed or assaulted them.
The Republican denied all of the claims, saying they were “100 percent fabricated” and “totally false” and his accusers were “liars.” He specifically contested Zervos’ allegations in a statement and retweeted a message that included her photo and described her claims as a “hoax.”
Zervos says his words hurt her reputation, harmed her business and led to threats against her. She is seeking a retraction, an apology and compensatory and punitive damages.
Trump’s attorneys have said his statements were true, and also that his remarks were “non-defamatory opinions” that came amid the heated public debate of a national political campaign. They also argue that a sitting president cannot be sued in a state court.