Civil Lawsuits Could Pursue Trump, Like They Pursued Clinton, for the Rest of His Time in Office
Donald Trump, not yet president-elect, ironically seated with Paula Jones (right), the woman who established the right of a citizen to sue a sitting president
by Gaius Publius
In an unusually ironic twist, the Paula Jones lawsuit against a sitting president, Bill Clinton, has set a precedent for four years of lawsuits against another sitting president, Donald Trump. With a caveat.
Story first, then the caveat. From Stephanie Mencimer writing at Mother Jones (my emphasis):
How Paula Jones Paved the Way for Donald Trump to Be Repeatedly Dragged Into Court as PresidentThe article has great backstory on how this all came about, then moves to this:
The president-elect has Kellyanne Conway's husband to thank, too.
When he moves into the White House in January, Donald Trump will bring with him some unusual baggage: a long list of pending lawsuits in which he is either a plaintiff or a defendant. And just because he'll be president doesn't mean these cases are going away. For this, Trump can thank Paula Jones and the husband of his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.
By USA Today's count, Trump is involved in at least 75 ongoing cases. They include the numerous fraud lawsuits targeting the president-elect's now-defunct Trump University, which encouraged students to take out hefty loans in order to enroll in its get-rich-quick real estate seminars. A trial in a class-action lawsuit against Trump University is scheduled to begin in California on November 28, though Trump's lawyers have asked to postpone the case until after his inauguration. During his presidency, Trump won't be able to avoid potentially embarrassing court proceedings, depositions, and even the possibility of appearing as a witness in court. The law is clear that a sitting president can be sued for private conduct—which brings us to the Paula Jones story.
In 1994, Jones—who was among a group of Bill Clinton accusers Trump assembled at a press conference before the second presidential debate—sued then-President Clinton for sexual harassment. Ann Coulter, a major supporter of Trump's presidential bid, was reportedly the ghostwriter of Jones' legal complaint. Clinton tried to fend off the suit by asserting presidential immunity, which protects the president from lawsuits over conduct while in office. But Jones argued that her case involved actions that had occurred before Clinton took office. Jones' lawsuit resulted in a 1997 Supreme Court decision in her favor that now ensures that all the civil suits currently pending against Trump—and any that may yet be filed concerning his business or private life—can go forward while he's in office. Because of this ruling, Trump can be forced to testify, produce evidence, submit to depositions, and ultimately pay judgments in cases he loses.
All the arguments that Conway made on Jones' behalf will apply to Trump. He could, of course, settle all the pending suits he's involved in. Trump said repeatedly [though] during the campaign that he did not want to settle the Trump University class-action suit that is slated to go to trial later this month.Yes he could settle all 75 of them, plus (I anticipate) the many many more that could be filed against his prior activities. It's unlikely he will go that route, however.
Which brings us to the caveat I mentioned above:
There is still one way Trump can avoid the barrage of lawsuits he's enmeshed in, at least for a while. In its decision in Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court noted that Congress could pass legislation to shield sitting presidents from civil suits. Will Trump ask the Republican Congress to protect him from legal action? If that's his plan, he'd better act soon. The Trump University trial could start before the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone.Interesting, yes? Let's see how this shakes out. Something else that Democrats in the Senate, if they have a collective spine, can filibuster.