A New York appeals court denied President Trump’s request to suspend a defamation suit against him Thursday, clearing the way for an exhaustive probe of how he handled accusations of sexual misconduct during the 2016 campaign.
The ruling allows Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” to gather evidence on Trump’s alleged misconduct with at least 10 women who went public with their accusations when he was running for president.
In October 2016, Zervos alleged that Trump tried to force himself upon her in 2007 at a dinner in the bungalow where he was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Trump responded by charging that Zervos and all of the other women were lying. Zervos sued Trump for defamation a few days before his inauguration, seeking a retraction, an apology and unspecified damages.
A judge rejected Trump’s request to dismiss the suit in March, saying, “No one is above the law.”
On Thursday, the appellate panel refused to postpone discovery in the case while Trump appeals the lower court’s refusal to drop the case. The discovery process could ultimately include a deposition of Trump.
Zervos will now be able to enforce her subpoena for a trove of Trump campaign documents. She has sought all records concerning accusations that Trump “subjected any woman to unwanted sexual touching and/or sexually inappropriate behavior.”
The subpoena demands all of the campaign’s records on the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump saying in 2005 that women let him grab their crotch because he’s a celebrity.
It also seeks financial records on Trump’s dining expenses the night that Zervos says he pressed himself against her in an attempt to initiate sex at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“It is important that Trump provide answers through the discovery process a.s.a.p.,” attorney Gloria Allred said on Twitter.
Allred filed the lawsuit for Zervos but no longer represents her.
Marc Kasowitz, an attorney for Trump, called the appeals court ruling incorrect.
“It is also completely and unjustifiably contrary to the stays the courts uniformly granted when deciding whether a lawsuit against President Clinton could proceed in federal court,” he said, alluding to the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.
“There is no valid reason in this case — in which plaintiff is seeking merely $3,000 in damages, and which plaintiff’s counsel has repeatedly insisted was brought for political purposes — for the court not to grant the requested stay in order to take the time to first decide the threshold constitutional issue that is at stake.”
Trump’s lawyers say the Constitution bars state courts from hearing civil suits against a sitting president. They also argue that Trump had a 1st Amendment right to call his accusers liars.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley law school, said there was no reason a president can’t be sued in a state court for actions that occurred prior to taking office, citing the 1997 Supreme Court ruling that the Jones case against Clinton could proceed in federal court.
“A political candidate does not have an absolute right to defame others,” he added. “If the standards for defamation liability are met, a presidential candidate — or anyone else — can be held liable.”
Trump faces another defamation suit filed by adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, who says the president smeared her in a tweet that mocked her for saying that a man once physically threatened her on his behalf. “A total con job,” Trump wrote.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 days before the November 2016 election in return for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.
4:55 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Erwin Chemerinsky.
4:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information on Trump’s lawyers’ argument.
This article was originally published at 3:20 p.m.