Trump could be forced to testify on sexual-harassment allegations — and if he lies he could be impeached

  • Summer Zervos, who accused Trump of sexually harassing her in 2007, is suing him for defamation because he called her and other accusers liars.
  • Trump's lawyers will argue in a New York court on Tuesday that the lawsuit should be thrown out because he is a sitting president.
  • But former President Bill Clinton was deposed while he was a sitting president over allegations of sexual harassment by Paula Jones. Later, when he was found to have lied under oath, he was impeached by the House of Representatives.
  • "People are going to find out who this guy really is," Mindy McGillivray, one of Trump's accusers, told Business Insider.

While everyone's talking about special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Trump campaign's communication with the Russian government, the president's lawyers are preparing for an altogether different case.

On Tuesday, in a New York state Supreme Court hearing, they're expected to try to have a defamation case against the president dismissed. If they fail, the president could be forced to testify on allegations that he sexually harassed more than a dozen women.

The suit was filed by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," who claimed last year that Trump "very aggressively" kissed her, groped her breasts, and began "thrusting" his genitals at her in a 2007 meeting at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Her claim is that Trump damaged her reputation when he called her a liar.

The hearing comes amid a torrent of scrutiny around sexual misconduct by powerful men in the US following bombshell revelations regarding years of alleged sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The allegations cost Weinstein his job and, subsequently, women have come forward with a variety of allegations against high-profile journalists, lawmakers, and executives.

Trump's lawyers are expected to argue that the suit against him should be thrown out or delayed until after his term on the grounds that a sitting president can't be sued in state court. Part of their reasoning is that a trial could distract Trump from his official business as president.

The experience of another US president — Bill Clinton — shows that this argument may not hold up. Clinton's experience also shows how, if Trump lies under oath, he could be impeached.

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Summer Zervos
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Summer Zervos
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Reality TV personality Summer Zervos attends The 27th Annual Night Of 100 Stars Black Tie Dinner Viewing Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by J. Countess/WireImage)
PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Donald Trump Accuser Summer Zervos attends the 27th annual 'Night Of 100 Stars' black tie dinner viewing gala at The Villa Aurora on February 26, 2017 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 17: Summer Zervos attends a press conference with attorney Gloria Allred (L) to announce their defamation lawsuit against President-elect Donald Trump on January 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Zervos a former contestant on The Apprentice accused Trump of sexually inappropriate conduct prior to the presidential elction. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the TV show The Apprentice, who previously accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, during a press conference in Los Angeles, California on November 11, 2016. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Summer Zervos (R), who previously accused President-elect Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her, listens at a press conference with attorney Gloria Allred at Allred's office in Los Angeles on November 11, 2016. Allred on Friday called on Trump to promise not to file a complaint against those who accused him of abusive sexual behavior, waving the threat of counter-prosecution. Allred asked the president-elect to retract his statements calling his accusers liars, and assure them he will not prosecute them. / AFP / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Summer Zervos, a former candidate on �The Apprentice� season five, who is accusing Donald Trump of inappropriate sexual conduct, speaks to the press with her attorney Gloria Allred October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. This is the first time the accuser has spoken publicly about the alleged incident. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Summer Zervos who was a contestant on the TV show The Apprentice, speaks about allegations of sexual misconduct against Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump during a press conference with attorney Gloria Allred in Los Angeles, California on October 14, 2016. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Summer Zervos, a former candidate on �The Apprentice� season five, who is accusing Donald Trump of inappropriate sexual conduct, speaks to the press with her attorney Gloria Allred October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. This is the first time the accuser has spoken publicly about the alleged incident. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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Clinton v. Jones

"The precedent is not on Trump's side," says Susan Low Bloch, a professor at Georgetown University's law school and an expert in constitutional law.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1997, in Clinton v. Jones, that sitting presidents are not in fact immune from civil-law litigation over something that happened before they took office. The ruling specifically pertained to federal lawsuits. Trump's lawyers say this case is different because it was filed in a state court.

Trump's legal team is also expected to argue on Tuesday that the president's statements referring to his accusers as "liars" amounted to political speech and should therefore be protected from legal action.

"All of the statements occurred on political forums — a campaign website, on Mr. Trump’s Twitter account, in a presidential debate, and at campaign rallies — where the listeners expect to hear public debate, taken as political opinion rather than a defamatory statement," Trump's lawyers wrote in a court filing last month.

This argument could be tough to win, unless Trump's defense can prove that Zervos is a limited public figure, Bloch said.

Zervos' lawyer, Gloria Allred, said Trump should have to defend what he said in court. Allred has also subpoenaed his campaign for all documents related to the many women who have accused him of sexual harassment.

"We believe that President Trump should be accountable for his statements," she said in July. "No one enjoys a license to defame based on power, wealth or privilege."

Zervos was one of 13 women who accused Trump last year of unwanted physical contact over a period spanning more than 30 years. Trump has denied Zervos' claims, saying he "vaguely" remembers her and that he never met her at a hotel. He later called Zervos and his other accusers "liars" during several campaign appearances and on Twitter.

Zervos, through Allred, declined an interview. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Lying about Lewinsky

If the court decides the suit can move forward, Trump will likely be deposed, meaning he will have to give sworn statements concerning the allegations against him.

Former US President Bill Clinton faced a similar situation as a sitting president when he was sued by Paula Jones, who had accused him of sexual harassment when he was the governor of Arkansas. As part of that suit, Clinton gave a sworn deposition in 1998 in which he denied a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton later admitted to the affair, after Lewinsky provided grand-jury testimony on her relationship with the president and produced evidence: a dress stained with semen matching Clinton's DNA.

Kenneth Starr, an independent counsel at the time, concluded that Clinton committed perjury — an impeachable offense — when he denied the affair with Lewinsky. Starr submitted his findings to the US House of Representatives, which voted to impeach Clinton. But the Senate later acquitted him of all charges, and he remained in office.

Like Clinton, Trump could face impeachment if he lied under oath. In that case, it would ultimately be up to Congress to decide whether he was telling the truth.

25 PHOTOS
Monica Lewinsky through the years
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Monica Lewinsky through the years
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Monica Lewinsky attends Vanity Fair & SAKS Fifth Avenue International Best Dressed List at Saks Fifth Avenue on September 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Victor Garber, Monica Lewinsky, Anne McNally, Anh Duong, Rainer Andreesen attend the Saks Fifth Avenue + Vanity Fair: 2016 International Best Dressed List Celebration at Saks Fifth Avenue on September 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: TV personality Monica Lewinsky, shoe detail, attends the 2016 Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List at Saks Fifth Avenue on September 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: TV personality Monica Lewinsky, bag detail, attends the 2016 Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List at Saks Fifth Avenue on September 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 16: Monica Lewinsky attends 'Hoping's Greatest Hits', the 10th anniversary of The Hoping Foundation's fundraising event for Palestinian refugee children hosted by Bella Freud and Karma Nabulsi, at Ronnie Scott's on June 16, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 16: Philip Colbert (L) and Monica Lewinsky attend 'Hoping's Greatest Hits', the 10th anniversary of The Hoping Foundation's fundraising event for Palestinian refugee children hosted by Bella Freud and Karma Nabulsi, at Ronnie Scott's on June 16, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 16: Monica Lewinsky attends 'Hoping's Greatest Hits', the 10th anniversary of The Hoping Foundation's fundraising event for Palestinian refugee children hosted by Bella Freud and Karma Nabulsi, at Ronnie Scott's on June 16, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Monica Lewinsky attends the gala screening of 'Despite The Falling Snow' on March 23, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Monica Lewinsky poses backstage at the hit musical based on the cult film 'American Psycho' on Broadway at The Schoenfeld Theatre on May 02, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
Monica Lewinsky arrives to the Vanity Fair Party following the 88th Academy Awards at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday evening, February 28, 2016. (Photo by Axel Koester/Corbis via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: TV personality Monica Lewinsky arrives at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Monica Lewinsky attends a special Charity Premiere of 'Despite The Falling Snow' in aid of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund at The May Fair Hotel on March 23, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: TV personality Monica Lewinsky attends the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: (L to R) Olga Kurylenko, Alice Temperley and Monica Lewinsky attend an intimate dinner party hosted by Alice Temperley to celebrate 15 years of Temperley at GWP Studio on November 12, 2015 in London, England. Guests drank Baileys Flat White martinis to toast the occasion and mark the significant milestone for the brand. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Temperley London)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Monica Lewinsky arrives for the gala screening of 'Despite The Falling Snow' on March 23, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Monica Lewinsky (R) visits TV/Radio host Andy Cohen (L) at Radio Andy at SiriusXM Studios on October 19, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 06: Monica Lewinsky attends the Forbes Under 30 Summit at Pennsylvania Convention Center on October 6, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
Monica Lewinsky attends the Spring Gala In Aid of the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital hosted by QBF and Kerzner Calliva at Claridge's Hotel on May 12, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Quercus Biasi Foundation)
Monica Lewinsky attends the Spring Gala In Aid of the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital hosted by QBF and Kerzner Calliva at Claridge's Hotel on May 12, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Quercus Biasi Foundation)
Designer Monica Lewinsky attends the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Actor Alan Cumming and designer Monica Lewinsky attend HBO's Post 2015 Golden Globe Awards Party at Circa 55 Restaurant on January 11, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Monica Lewinsky arrives at International Documentary Association's 2014 IDA Documentary Awards at Paramount Studios on December 5, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
David Friend and Monica Lewinsky attend the Kitchen Spring Gala Benefit 2014 at Cipriani Wall Street on May 22, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Monica Lewinsky attends Entertainment Weekly's 'LA Can't Have All The Fun' 10th Anniversary Oscar Party at Elaine's on February 29, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images)
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Trump faces a litany of sexual-harassment allegations

More than a dozen women came forward before the presidential election last year accusing Trump of unwanted sexual advances.

Among them was Jessica Leeds, who said Trump groped her on a flight in the 1980s. She said he grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. "He was like an octopus," she told The New York Times. "His hands were everywhere."

Kristin Anderson said Trump slipped his hand up her skirt and touched her vagina through her underwear at a New York City nightclub in the early 1990s. Jill Harth said Trump pushed her against a wall, put his hand up her skirt, and tried to kiss her at a dinner in the early 1990s.

Mindy McGillivray said Trump grabbed her buttocks in 2003 when she was 23 years old and working at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's oceanfront resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

"Donald is over 6 feet tall and very intimidating," McGillivray told Business Insider. "I was vulnerable — a young mother."

Natasha Stoynoff said she was interviewing Trump in 2005, one year after his marriage to Melania, when he allegedly forced himself on her. "Within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat," she wrote last year in People magazine.

Also in 2005, then 22-year-old Rachel Crooks said she introduced herself to Trump outside an elevator in Trump Tower in Manhattan and that he kissed her on the mouth.

These women and others all came forward following the release of an "Access Hollywood" videotape in which Trump bragged about being able to grab women "by the pussy." Trump later downplayed the remarks as "locker-room talk" and denied all the allegations of sexual harassment. The New York Times reported this week that Trump has since suggested to lawmakers that it is not him on the tape, citing people who are close to the president or aware of his private conversations.

33 PHOTOS
Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort
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Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 12: (MINIMUM PRICING APPLIES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE) Place settings photographed before guests arrive for Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Trump's wedding reception at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
Photo: Trump Golf
Photo: Trump Golf
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General view of the upper balcony area during Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon's wedding at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 11, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Photo by Michelle McMinn Photography/Getty Images)

View of the beach club pool at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, February 17, 2003.

(Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

General view inside The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

American businessman Donald Trump talks with a group of Boy Scouts on a tour of the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 1999.

(Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

General view of the upper balcony area at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

General view of Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon's wedding reception at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

An American flag flies over Donald Trump's Mar-A-Lago club November 1, 2006 in Palm Beach, Florida. The town of Palm Beach has cited Donald Trump because the flag is too big and does not meet the town's specifications. A hearing is scheduled.

(Photo by Lucien Capehart/Getty Images)

Grand interior reception at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Estate in Florida
Grand interior reception at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Estate in Florida
Party on the Moon performs during US President-elect Donald Trump's New Year's Eve party December 31, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 13: The Donald J. Trump Ballroom at the Mar-A-Lago Club' in Palm Beach where Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke after the Florida primary, March 13, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 1: Pool that Trump built at Mar-a-Lago. Photo by Mary Jordan/The Washington Post via Getty Images
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 1: The tiled patio at Mar-a-Lago, a focal point of the estate. Photo by Mary Jordan/The Washington Post via Getty Images
PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 28: A general view at the Mar-a-lago Club Pool view at the Andrea Bocelli concert at The Mar-a-Lago Club on February 28, 2010 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Lucien Capehart/Getty Images)
View from an upper balcony of the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, September 4, 2010. The view looks south towards a newly constucted ballroom. (Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton's home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Real estate developer Donald Trump (C) w. wife Ivana sitting in their home, Mar-a-Lago, w. household staff behind. (Photo by Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - JANUARY 29: The pool at Mar-A-Lago where cocktails were held for the International Red Cross Ball January 29, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Lucien Capehart/Getty Images)
Atmosphere during Art for Life Gala Honoring Sean P. Diddy Combs Hosted by Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee Simmons at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, United States. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Preparations are made before guests arrive for Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon?s wedding reception at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMER 12: (MINIMUM PRICING APPLIES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE) Ivana Trump and guests attend the wedding ceremony of Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon at the Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMER 12: (MINIMUM PRICING APPLIES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE) Newlyweds Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon pose with the groomsmen and bridesmaids after the wedding ceremony of Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon at the Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michelle McMinn Photography/Getty Images)
Palm Beach-dining setting for the club members. Mar-a-lago is an estate and National Historic Landmark in Palm Beach built by the heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. It was envisioned as a winter retreat for presidents, but never used as such and in 1985 Donald Trump purchased it. The estate contains the Mar-a-lago private club, and a separate closed off area that serve as the Trumps family private quarters..............-the Estate showcases a sumptuous decorative style , everywhere you turned there were lavish accents, but all of these tied together with elegance and an undeniable regal style. I was amazed at the countless details, the estate is truly breathtaking. #palmbeach #maralago #lls #blacktie #gala #glamour #jetsetter #exclusive #liveauthentic #luxury #lifestyle #fashion
The closing day at the Cavallino, Classic Sports Sunday in #palmbeach #vintage #cars #pbir #trophy #cavallino #carshow #racecar #bugatti
Ready for a party #HappyFriday . . 📸: @adamoprisphotography
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'Totally phoney'

Trump also threatened to sue all his accusers.

"Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign — total fabrication," Trump said at a campaign rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in October 2016. "The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."

Trump hasn't yet filed any suits against his accusers, but he still publicly maintains his innocence.

When asked about the Zervos subpoena in October, which demands all campaign communication regarding Trump's accusers, Trump called it "fake news."

"All I can say is it's totally fake news, just fake," he said. "It's fake. It's made-up stuff, and it's disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the world of politics."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later reaffirmed that the Trump administration’s official position is that all of Trump’s accusers are lying.

Trump accuser says the truth will come out

McGillivray, one of the women who said she was groped by Trump, says it's the president who is lying.

She told Business Insider that she was terrified to talk publicly about the incident in 2003 when she says Trump grabbed her buttocks.

"I was a nervous wreck," McGillivray said. "But I felt like this was a time to be courageous. The guy's a liar and I wanted people to know that."

McGillivray told her story to the Palm Beach Post in October, and said she subsequently became the target of a barrage of death threats online. She and her daughter fled their home in Florida for three weeks to escape the national attention.

Regardless of what happens with Zervos' suit, McGillivray said she's confident that Americans will ultimately find out the truth about the sexual-harassment allegations against Trump.

"People are going to find out who this guy really is," she said.

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