While allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men in recent weeks have drawn wide public support and prompted quick response, women who came forward during the presidential race with accusations against Donald Trump said they spent the past year feeling dismissed and forgotten.
“With Trump, it was all brushed under the rug,” said Temple Taggart, who claimed Trump had kissed her on the mouth when she was competing in his Miss USA pageant in 1997.
But that could change if a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who accused Trump of unwanted sexual advances is allowed to proceed in New York state Supreme Court, a legal ruling that could come before the end of the year. Lawyers in the suit sought a subpoena seeking all Trump campaign records related to his female accusers. If the case advances, the accusers could be deposed, going up against Trump yet again.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit — Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s show “The Apprentice” — is represented by the law firm of Gloria Allred, who has helped bring cases against Bill Cosby and other high-profile defendants.They claimed that Trump defamed Zervos during the campaign when he repeatedly described her and other accusers’ accounts as “lies” and “nonsense” and said the women either were being put forward by his opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign or were motivated to come forward by getting “ten minutes of fame,” according to the complaint.
Trump wants a judge to dismiss or stay the case, claiming that a sitting president cannot be sued in state court and that his comments amount to political speech, arguments that were reaffirmed by his legal team in a brief filed Tuesday.
But lawyers for Zervos point to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed Paula Jones to bring a sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton while he was in office, and several law professors have filed briefs supporting the legal grounds for such a suit.
Among those who said they would embrace the opportunity to provide a deposition in the case is Jessica Leeds, who has accused Trump of grabbing her breasts and trying to put his hand up her skirt during a plane ride several decades ago. “I would do it — I’m not afraid,” Leeds said.
When she spoke out last year, Trump denied her allegation and insinuated that Leeds was not attractive enough for that to have happened. “Believe me,” he said. “She would not be my first choice.”
Asked about the subpoena stemming from the lawsuit at a news conference last month, Trump said it was “totally fake news.”
“It’s made-up stuff, and it’s disgraceful, what happens,” he said. “But that happens in the world of politics.”
During the campaign, more than 10 women made allegations against Trump ranging from unwanted touching to sexual assault.
Most of them spoke out after the release of an “Access Hollywood” tape that captured him bragging about kissing women and grabbing their private parts without invitation.
Trump insisted that he had never engaged in the behavior he described and dismissed his own comments as “locker room talk.” When woman after woman went public with accusations, he denied every one of them.
And when Zervos made her claim, saying that Trump had groped and kissed her without her consent at his office in New York City and a hotel in Los Angeles in 2007, he said that he had never met her “at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately.”
The accusers, varying in age and geographic location, had never met one another, and their allegations stretched back to the 1980s. Some said they had run into Trump through work, while others said they had chance encounters with him.
Taggart and several others said they had spent the past year in a mix of disbelief, anger and occasional fear as they watched Trump call them liars, threaten to sue them and then win an election to the White House.
Zervos declined to comment, but in the lawsuit, her lawyers say that “Mr. Trump knowingly, intentionally and maliciously threw each and every one of these women under the bus, with conscious disregard of the impact that repeatedly calling them liars would have upon their lives and reputations.”
The suit, which is before Judge Jennifer Schecter, alleges emotional harm and about $3,000 in economic damage. But Allred has said the purpose of the lawsuit is not financial but rather to expose the truth.
Legal experts point out that Trump could eventually be deposed or asked to testify, and that if he lied under oath, it would be grounds for Congress to impeach him, as happened with Bill Clinton.
Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s lawyer in the case, has made a variety of legal arguments seeking its dismissal. He has argued that the Constitution’s supremacy clause prevents a state court from hearing an action against a sitting president, and that even if the New York court disagreed, it should stay the case during the Trump presidency to prevent “a private witch hunt that could threaten to interfere with the operations of the executive branch and the federal government.”
Kasowitz has also argued that because the allegedly defamatory statements were made during a national political campaign, they should be viewed as “part of the expected fiery rhetoric, hyperbole and opinion that is squarely protected by the First Amendment.”
The day after Trump was sworn in as president in January, some of his accusers marched in Washington, drawing cheers from fellow protesters, including actress Ashley Judd.
“She was telling us to stay strong, that we did the right thing,” said Taggart.
Since then, Judd has helped to unleash an avalanche of accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, leading to his dismissal from his company and inspiring others to go public with complaints about other prominent male bosses.
Rachel Crooks, who said that, in 2005, Trump kissed her on the mouth when she was working as a young receptionist at Trump Tower in Manhattan, has been heartened to see the recent allegations bring about change.
But she could not help seeing a contrast to how things played out for the Trump accusers.
“You do wonder,” Crooks said, “how can the country forget about us?”