WASHINGTON — Haunted by Russia and beset by internal strife, Donald Trump’s White House is also increasingly being forced to confront allegations from the president’s past, as an adult film star, a former Playboy model and a onetime “Apprentice” contestant press court cases.
In court, on social media and with upcoming television interviews, these women are making allegations about Trump’s past sexual exploits. And while previous accusations have not derailed the thrice-married businessman, now they are surfacing in the context of the rising #MeToo movement.
The White House has little to say publicly about the accusations, which are only likely to get louder.
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006. She filed a lawsuit in California this week seeking to invalidate a confidentiality agreement with a company that owns the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer.
“This is not someone who signed a hush agreement and regrets it,” McDougal’s attorney, Peter Stris, said Wednesday morning on NBC. “This is someone who was taken advantage of by a consortium of interests, including a massive company that happens to be run by someone who is personal friends with the president of the United States.”
McDougal is set to do a Thursday interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN. Scheduled to air Sunday is a CBS “60 Minutes” interview with porn actress Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford. She is looking to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 presidential election so she can discuss her relationship with Trump, which she said began in 2006 and continued for about a year.
Trump is also under heightened pressure after a New York City judge ruled Tuesday that a defamation lawsuit by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” can move forward while the president is in office. Zervos has accused Trump of unwanted sexual contact in 2007 after she had appeared on the show with him, and sued after he dismissed the claims as made up. Her lawsuit seeks an apology and at least $2,914.
It’s unclear whether Trump would have to appear at any of the proceedings, but Zervos’ lawyers have said they want to depose him. The judge asked during arguments in December whether video conferencing and other methods could be used to accommodate the president’s busy schedule.
It’s rare for a president to be deposed: It happened most recently to President Bill Clinton in 1998 during the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit.
That suit set the precedent for the Zervos case to move forward. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that a sitting president was not immune from civil litigation on something that happened before taking office and was unrelated to the office. Jones’ case was dismissed by a judge, then appealed. The appeal was still pending when Clinton agreed to pay $850,000 to Jones to settle the case. He did not admit wrongdoing.
Zervos’ attorney, Mariann Wang, told Judge Jennifer Schecter in a court appearance in early December that she would be happy to accommodate the president’s schedule. Her team would be glad to take depositions at Mar-A-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort, in between rounds of golf, she said.
Trump’s legal team said they would appeal and ask that the case be put on hold until a final decision is reached.
In the case of the Playboy model, McDougal filed suit Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court against American Media Inc., the company that owns the National Enquirer. It had paid her $150,000 during the 2016 presidential election. The lawsuit alleges that McDougal was paid for the rights to her story of an affair, but the story never ran. It also alleges that Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, was secretly involved in her discussions with American Media.
Trump has consistently denied accusations from all three women pressing court cases. He has previously called his accusers “liars” and has deemed such reports “made up stuff.”
In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, teased that more details would come out on “60 Minutes,” and said his office was checking out similar claims from six women who had come forward.
He said Clifford’s legal adversaries were “more seriously today than they were a couple of weeks ago. I’ll say that they should be taking us very seriously. Every time in my career that I’ve been underestimated, that has worked out really, really poorly for the other side at the end of the game.”