Former President Donald Trump wants to counter a former “Apprentice” contestant who accused him of defaming him when he denied her sexual assault allegations.
Saying he was being harassed for preventing Trump from speaking freely, his lawyer sought a court’s permission on Monday to pursue a counterclaim against Samar Zervos.
The request comes as Zervos’ nearly five-year-old defamation lawsuit nears a critical stage. He and he will be interrogated under oath till December 23.
Zervos says Trump hurt her reputation by saying he accused her of unwanted kissing and groping in 2007—a claim she publicly aired during the 2016 presidential campaign.
His denial included retweeting a message calling his claims “a hoax”. He also described a series of women who tried to torpedo his White House hopes as “liars” by accusing him of sexual assault and harassment.
Trump’s former lawyers responded years ago that they did not defame Zervos. He said that his statements were true and the right to freedom of expression was protected.
Now he wants to strengthen his defense by adopting a 2020 New York law that makes it easier to defeat defamation claims involving public communications on issues of public interest.
The law was envisioned as helping journalists, activists, and others with powerful interests to back down baseless claims who want to sue them for silence. Trump lawyer Alina Habba argues that this applies to statements made by the future president “at the highest levels of the national forum,” including during a debate.
“Zervos sued for the sole purpose of harassing, intimidating, punishing or otherwise maliciously obstructing Trump and his free speech rights,” Habba wrote in court papers filed Monday. They want unspecified damages, as well as attorneys’ fees.
Zervos’ attorneys, Beth Wilkinson and Moira Penza, said New York’s law “does not grant Mr. Trump a license to evade accountability for his words.”
“We look forward to taking Mr. Trump’s statement and fighting his unwarranted attacks against our client,” Wilkinson and Penza said in a statement. He called his filing “a desperate response” to the December deadline for the deposit, a legal term for swearing-in inquiries by the other party’s lawyers.
Monday’s filing comes as Trump answered hours of questions in a statement in a separate lawsuit filed by protesters who say his security team harassed him in 2015. He said in statement after statement that the protesters’ claim was “unfounded harassment” and that he was happy to tell his side of that story.
Zervos, a California restaurant, appeared on “The Apprentice” in 2006, when Trump hosted the show. She says she contacted him the next year to talk about her career. According to him, he then made unwanted advances during meetings at his New York office and a hotel in California where he was staying.
She is seeking unspecified damages, withdrawing her alleged defamatory statements and apologizing.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they have come out in public, as Zervos has done.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /