The latest filing by Donald Trump’s legal team in the Summer Zervos defamation suit sets the stage for a formal request by the former “Apprentice” contestant’s lawyers to question the President under oath.
Zervos filed a lawsuit against Trump in January 2017, in which she alleged that Trump defamed her in 2016 after she said he sexually assaulted her in 2007.
Trump’s attorney, Marc Kasowitz, filed an answer to the complaint Tuesday evening, as required by a stipulation agreement between the two sides filed earlier this year.
The answer is an eight-page list of denials that also includes nine so-called affirmative defenses that largely reassert Trump’s main legal arguments in the case, including that a sitting president is immune from prosecution under the US Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
Kasowitz also alleges in the answer that Zervos is not entitled to punitive damages as a matter of law, that Trump’s “alleged defamatory statements” are true and that they are privileged or protected speech, among other arguments.
“Just like any other person being sued in a court of law in this country, the defendant was today required to answer the complaint filed by Ms. Zervos,” Zervos’ attorney, Mariann Meier Wang, said in response to the Trump team’s filing. “We look forward to proving that his denials are baseless.”
Under rules governing court proceedings, the filing of an answer by Trump means that Zervos’ legal team can now formally ask to depose the President – a significant development in the case. Lying under oath in a civil deposition led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Other aspects of the discovery process are already underway. Earlier this month, Zervos’ team issued subpoenas to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the Beverly Hills Hotel as part of their effort to prove that Trump lied “when he falsely denigrated Ms. Zervos and denied sexually assaulting her,” Wang said. She set a May 31 deadline for both companies to comply with the subpoena for the material requested.
MGM owns the archives of “The Apprentice” and Wang wants the company to hand over all documents, video or audio that feature Zervos or Trump talking about Zervos and any recordings of Trump inappropriately “commenting on the female candidates.”
She also wants to depose an MGM representative to inquire about how recordings of “The Apprentice” are stored and maintained, who has access to them, and when, if ever, they were transferred or destroyed.
Wang wants records from the Beverly Hills Hotel of any stay by Trump from 2005 through 2009 and documents related to his longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, his longtime assistant Rhona Graff or Zervos and for “(a)ll video recordings that depict the entrances, common areas, or bungalow areas of the Beverly Hills Hotel during the month of December 2007.”
Trump’s team is appealing the March 20 ruling by New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter, who allowed the case to go forward. That appeal is set to be heard in the fall term. Kasowitz wants the appellate court to revisit the matter of whether the Constitution bars a state court from hearing an action against a sitting president. He also argues that Schecter erred in denying the President’s motion to dismiss or delay the case on First Amendment grounds.
Earlier Tuesday, Kasowitz also filed paperwork appealing a New York court’s decision last week that allowed the discovery process to move forward while the appeals process is underway.