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Former 'Apprentice' Contestant Will Proceed With Defamation Lawsuit Against Trump


A new legal front is opening up against President Trump. Two former adult entertainment stars who alleged they had personal relationships with Trump before the election are suing to get out of their nondisclosure agreements. A third woman, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," has been cleared to proceed with a defamation lawsuit against Trump. The president has denied any allegations of wrongdoing. I'll note that upfront. But NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is with us now to tell us more. Carrie, hello.


MARTIN: So please bring us up to date on these new legal problems for the president. And I'm going to ask you to start with the name that a lot of people already know, the adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

JOHNSON: Sure. Stormy Daniels says she had a long affair with Trump before he became president, and she wants to talk about their relationship, but she signed a nondisclosure agreement. She wants to be released from that deal. She's already sat down with "60 Minutes" in an interview that could air this weekend. There's a catch. The president's lawyer, Michael Cohen, says Daniels is violating the terms of this agreement. He wants to go after her, seeking forfeiture of $1 million for every time she talks about Trump. And Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is very media savvy. Yesterday, he released an image from a polygraph test that Stormy Daniels took in 2011. There, the polygraph examiner concluded that Stormy Daniels was telling the truth when she had - she said she had a relationship with Donald Trump.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, another woman, former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, says she wants to talk about her relationship with Trump, but there's a catch. The company that owns the National Enquirer paid for her story but never ran it. Can you explain what's going on there?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Karen McDougal says that deal should be thrown out. She claims she got bad legal advice from her lawyer at the time and that AMI, the company which controls the National Enquirer, didn't live up to its promises in the deal with her. Her new lawyer, Peter Stris, hit the media circuit today to say she should have a chance to set the record straight. Here he is talking on "CBS This Morning."


PETER STRIS: Karen is a Republican. She voted for the president. She holds no ill will. One of the - one of the reasons it's taken her, I think, so long to come forward is that's actually a concern, that if ever there were a case that was not motivated by naked politics, it's this one.

JOHNSON: Now Peter Stris says that his client wants to do an interview on CNN tomorrow. Then she's going to go back to her private life.

MARTIN: OK. And now there's this other case moving through the courts in New York that involves President Trump and his behavior before he took office. Could you tell us about that one?

JOHNSON: Yeah. This case may be in some ways the most serious of all. It involves Summer Zervos. She was a contestant on the reality TV show "The Apprentice." She's accused Donald Trump of unwanted groping and sexual harassment at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Donald Trump has denied this. He's called her a phony and said the claims were false. And that actually gave Summer Zervos an opening to sue the president for defamation. This week, a judge in New York paved the way for her case to move forward, which could eventually lead to Donald Trump being deposed under oath.

MARTIN: And I think people may remember that there seemed to be some echoes here with President Bill Clinton's legal troubles back in the 1990s.

JOHNSON: Yeah. In fact, the judge in New York this week presiding over Summer Zervos' case cited legal precedent dating back to Bill Clinton. She said no one is above the law, even the president. Now, in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled a sitting president could be sued in civil court for conduct that took place before he became president. That involved, of course, the sexual harassment lawsuit Pollard Jones filed against Bill Clinton. And one of the lawyers involved in that case was named George Conway. He happens to be the husband of current White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. Yesterday, George Conway tweeted this decision in New York about Summer Zervos and President Trump was correct about the law. You cannot make this up - history coming full circle today.

MARTIN: You got that right. There is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLLEEN'S "GOODBYE SUNSHINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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