An alleged victim of Donald Trump’s sexual misconduct has built a strong case in a lawsuit against him, but it’s not for sexual assault. Summer Zervos has claimed the president sexually assaulted her multiple times in the past. Since then, she has sued Trump not for those actions, but for lying about them. In what may turn out to be a smart move on the plaintiff’s part, Zervos is attempting to prove that Trump committed an entirely different crime: defamation.
Zervos’s victory is looking much more likely after she and her lawyers managed to subpoena the Trump campaign for all documents relating to her. Though this subpoena was issued in March, it was brought to light in October by reporters at BuzzFeed.
The subpoena is rather broad in its scope and may help other alleged victims. It requests documents relating to “any woman alleging that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”
It also requests documents relating to Trump defenders in this sexual assault case. Some may raise eyebrows, like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani defended Trump after the infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked and subsequent allegations of sexual assault, saying “men at times talk like that.”
The 20-page lawsuit reads like a New York Times exposé. In it, Zervos’s entire history with Trump is chronicled in detail. Zervos first met Trump as a contestant on The Apprentice. Though Trump fired her, she stayed in his favor and maintained contact.
Zervos, like many of the other women who have accused Trump of sexual assault, initially admired him for perceived business success and acumen. She wanted Trump’s advice and guidance to expand her restaurant business. Trump would greet Zervos with a kiss on the lips, taking her aback. However, Zervos assumed that Trump “just greeted people that way.”
Future meetings involved Trump making advances towards her, including grabbing her breasts, embracing her and pressing his genitals against her, all without her consent. Zervos repeatedly pushed Trump away, occasionally accompanied with clear rejections.
Zervos was being patient with a man who repeatedly made unwanted advances on her because she believed the meetings would be beneficial to her business pursuits. In the long run, they weren’t. Zervos did not pursue sexual assault charges at the time because, as the lawsuit claims, she thought that the advances were an isolated incident. She even thought that Trump “had been testing her and that she had passed.”
The document begins with a description of Trump’s comments on the Access Hollywood tape because that was a turning point for Zervos. With Trump explicitly claiming that he’s allowed to sexually assault women on a regular basis due to his celebrity status, Zervos began to see him as “a sexual predator who had preyed on her and other women.”
But, Zervos isn’t suing Trump for sexual assault. Once his image as an advisor was shattered, Zervos came forward with attorney Gloria Allred to detail her troubling experiences with the then-presidential candidate.
That’s when the alleged defamation began. With less than a month left until Election Day, Trump claimed Zervos’s accusation was a fabrication.
The lawsuit includes a long list of statements, tweets and press releases in which Trump claims that Zervos’s accusations are “yet another hoax.” The document doesn’t hold back, calling all of Trump’s claims “false and defamatory.”
In the State of New York, where the case has been filed, one must establish “actual malice” to prove defamation. A statement made with actual malice is done so “with knowledge that it was false.” If a statement is made with actual malice and causes damages, the victim is entitled to compensation.
In her lawsuit, Zervos’ lists financial damages totaling $2,914 due to fewer customers at her restaurant. The lawsuit claims that Trump ruined Zervos’ image, branding her a liar “who came forward only for fame or at the manipulation of the Clinton campaign.” Emotional damages are also listed, as Zervos calls the whole experience of the alleged defamation “painful and demoralizing.”
Zervos has asked Trump to retract his statements and apologize.
Since the case’s beginning, Trump’s defense has continually claimed that Zervos is lying, seeking fame, working for Clinton or all three. Since becoming president, Trump has added another element to his defense: his authority. Attorneys for Trump filed a statement claiming that “the Supremacy Clause [of the United States Constitution]… immunizes the President from being sued in state court while in office.”
Trump may settle in Zervos’s case, as he has done with many other lawsuits against him. But, with this broad subpoena, Zervos may be followed by several other women accusing Trump of sexual assault in a similar fashion. Zervos Complaint v. Trump could set up a precedent whereby Trump’s tweets could come back to haunt him, as anyone could go after him for insults made during his campaign.
Photo courtesy of Time Magazine.