The Memo: Women create new legal woes for Trump

President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE’s troubles with women are multiplying, with three lawsuits distracting from his agenda and potentially bringing legal peril.

The lawsuits also create the prospect of Trump being deposed, potentially exposing him to embarrassing lines of questioning and to the risk of perjury.

The White House says it is the women who are lying. More broadly, the administration cites the president’s 2016 election win as evidence that allegations about his personal behavior have already been adjudicated by the electorate.


But critics say the allegations are just another sign of how the Trump administration is going off track — even if two of the three involve consensual acts and appeal mainly to prurient interest, in contrast to the graver matters being investigated by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE.

“On the one hand, you have the possibility of money laundering with Russian oligarchs. At the other end of the spectrum, you have payoffs with Playboy models,” said conservative commentator Charlie Sykes, a Trump critic. “Is this presidency tragedy or farce? It’s sometimes hard to tell.”

The most high-profile case is porn star Stormy Daniels’s, who was paid $130,000 by Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in the closing stretch of the 2016 campaign. She says that deal was done to buy her silence about an affair with Trump a decade prior.

In addition, a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, is also taking legal action to free herself from an agreement restricting her ability to speak about an affair she says she had with Trump in 2006.

And Summer Zervos, a former contestant on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” got a legal boost on Tuesday. A judge in a New York state court ruled that Zervos’s defamation case against Trump could move forward, rebuffing arguments to the contrary from the president’s legal team.

Zervos’s case is the most substantively serious, since she alleges her encounter with Trump was nonconsensual. 

She says the future president kissed and groped her against her will in 2007. She also claims she was defamed by him when, in essence, he said she was lying.

The capacity of such tabloid-friendly subjects to command news attention is one of the biggest problems the president faces, according to experts.

“Having three separate cases means that one of them will always be on the news,” said Ambrosio Rodriguez, a California-based criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor with significant experience in sex crime cases.

“At least two of the three lawsuits are being led by attorneys who are very media savvy and have an aggressive public relations strategy,” he added.

Rodriguez was referring to Gloria AllredGloria Rachel AllredThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden officials brace for worst despite vaccine data Tenth Cuomo accuser says governor kissed her during 2017 tour of flood damage LAPD investigating rape allegation against Armie Hammer MORE, the attorney who is acting for Zervos, and Michael Avenatti, who is representing Daniels.

Allred has kept a high profile in the media for decades, while Avenatti has built interest in Daniels’s case through frequent television appearances. 

Avenatti has implied that Daniels possesses embarrassing materials on Trump and suggested there will be bombshells in her interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” which is scheduled to air on Sunday.

Allred told The Hill she had no comment to make on the Zervos case on Wednesday. Attempts to contact Avenatti were not successful.

But in an interview to be broadcast on Fox News’s “Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream” on Wednesday evening, Avenatti said that the “60 Minutes” interview would include more details about threats he says his client received.

During the Fox News interview, Bream highlighted the fact that Avenatti once worked with a firm run by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served in senior positions in both the Obama and Clinton administrations.

Avenatti said he had not spoken to Emanuel in more than a decade. 

He added, “The idea that this is politically motivated is laughable. This is about a search for the truth. I don’t care if you’re on the right, the left or in the center, you deserve to know the facts.”

The White House’s official position is that Trump had no sexual or romantic relationship with Daniels.

Earlier this month, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at a press briefing, “The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true.”

This week, however, saw the release of a lie detector test taken by Daniels in 2011. The report by the examiner found that Daniels “was truthful about having unprotected vaginal intercourse with Donald Trump in July 2006.”

Such polygraph tests, however, are always inadmissible in court on the grounds that they are not “generally accepted” as scientifically reliable evidence.

In the case of Zervos, the president called her allegations “totally fake news ... just fake” at a news conference last fall.

Asked the following week whether the White House’s position was that all the women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct are lying, Sanders replied, “Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning.”

The current rash of allegations, for some, recalls the circumstances faced by former President Clinton. 

Clinton’s campaign for the presidency was rocked by allegations of an affair with singer Gennifer Flowers. Allegations that he had exposed himself to Paula Jones while governor of Arkansas led, by a circuitous route, to the revelation that he had sexual encounters while president with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Longtime political observers noted that the Trump allegations had the capacity to be a distraction from his presidential agenda, just as the various Clinton-era scandals had been for the 42nd president.

“We won’t know the merit or legal consequences of the legal cases for a while, but more immediately they represent a huge distraction for an administration that has significant challenges,” said veteran Republican operative Mark McKinnon. “They are glittering objects that suck up a lot of media attention.”

Rodriguez, the lawyer, said he would advise Trump to take a page from Clinton’s playbook, prolonging the cases for as long as possible — and ideally until after his presidency had ended.

Rodriguez said he would advise Trump to keep quiet in the meantime. But Sykes, the commentator, wondered if this was one more subject where Trump could break all the rules.

“What would happen if Donald Trump just came out and said, ‘Yes, I did it. I had sex with beautiful Playboy models.’ Would that hurt him politically? I mean that as a serious question.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.