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Could these women’s lawsuits create a legal storm for Trump?

The adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal and reality TV contestant Summer Zervos have alleged three separate sex scandals with President Trump, and have all filed lawsuits that could threaten the president with years of litigation. Judy Woodruff walks through the legal arguments of the three cases with former federal prosecutor Kimberly Wehle.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    An adult film actress, a Playboy model and a reality TV star are adding to President Trump's legal problems. The trio of women allege three separate sex scandals, all of which he denies. But their lawsuits, at the very least, threaten the president with years of litigation.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    You had dinner in the room?

  • Stormy Daniels:

    Yes.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    And you had sex with him.

  • Stormy Daniels:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Stephanie Clifford's claim finally aired last night on "60 Minutes." The porn film actress known as Stormy Daniels said it was consensual, and happened one time, at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006. Clifford says she tried to sell her story to a tabloid in 2011, but a Trump lawyer got it suppressed.

    And she says there was a threat a few weeks later in Las Vegas.

  • Stormy Daniels:

    And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Five years later, just before the 2016 election, Mr. Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    If it was untruthful, why did you sign it?

  • STORMY DANIELS:

    Because they made it sound like I had no choice.

    The exact sentence used was, "They can make your life hell in many different ways."

  • Anderson Cooper:

    They being?

  • Stormy Daniels:

    I'm not exactly sure who they were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But Clifford is now suing the president, saying that the contract is void, since Mr. Trump is named as a party, but never signed it.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    The president watches "60 Minutes." If he's watching tonight, what would you say to him?

  • Stormy Daniels:

    He knows I'm telling the truth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Cohen has said he facilitated the payment of $130,000 out of his own pocket. He claims that neither the Trump Organization nor the campaign were party to the deal.

    After the "60 Minutes" interview, Cohen's lawyer accused Clifford of lying, and sent her a cease-and-desist letter. Mr. Trump and the White House deny the alleged affair.

  • Raj Shah:

    The president strongly, clearly and has consistently denied these underlying claims. And the only person who's been inconsistent is the one making the claims.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it doesn't end there:

  • Anderson Cooper:

    So, dozens of times you were together.

  • Karen Mcdougal:

    Many dozens of times, yes.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    And you were intimate…

  • Karen Mcdougal:

    Yes.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    … many dozens of times?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Playboy model Karen McDougal claims she also had an affair with President Trump, one more long-lasting. She told CNN last week that she began a 10-month relationship with him in June 2006, and that initially he offered her money.

  • Karen Mcdougal:

    After we had been intimate, he tried to pay me. And I actually didn't know how to take that.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    Did he actually try to hand you money?

  • Karen Mcdougal:

    He did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This was at the same time as Clifford's alleged encounter with Mr. Trump, whose wife, Melania, had given birth to their son a few months earlier.

  • Question:

    Mr. President, any comment on Ms. McDougal?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mr. Trump also denies this affair. But McDougal insists it happened, and like Clifford, she says Trump allies tried to cover it up.

    Just before the 2016 election, McDougal says she sold her story for $150,000 to The National Enquirer. But it never ran.

  • Anderson Cooper:

    You're convinced now this was an effort to do a favor for Donald Trump in the last few months of the presidential race?

  • Karen Mcdougal:

    Unfortunately, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, she is suing The National Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc., to void her deal. She argues it was in fact an illegal corporate donation to the Trump campaign.

    Meanwhile, a judge in New York has ruled that Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," may pursue her defamation suit against the president. In October of 2016, Zervos claimed Mr. Trump groped her, twice, in 2007.

  • Summer Zervos:

    He began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again with my hands still on his chest, and I said, "Dude, you're tripping right now."

  • President Donald Trump:

    All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Zervos says the president defamed her when he said she, and other women accusing him, were lying. Mr. Trump's legal team says it will appeal the New York judge's ruling.

    This afternoon came word that Stephanie Clifford is suing the president's lawyer Michael Cohen for defamation for calling her a liar.

    And now to walk us through the legal arguments, I'm joined by Kimberly Wehle. She's a former federal prosecutor. She now teaches at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

    Kimberly Wehle, welcome to the program.

    So, let's look a little more closely at what these three women are staying, starting with Stephanie Clifford, her name as an actor, Stormy Daniels. She has filed suit to invalidate that agreement that she signed back in 2016, giving up the rights to her story.

    How strong a case does she have? What kind of case does it look like to you?

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    Well, her claim is that the contract is invalid because it wasn't signed.

    But as a matter of contract law, the signature itself is not really a magical element of every contract. And so the question really comes down to whether the other signatory to the contract, which is an entity presumably that is related to the Trump Organization or Mr. Trump, whether they can actually impose sanctions on her at $1 million per violation for telling her story, in violation of the agreement.

    And the law really looks to what a reasonable amount of damages would be. That million-dollar number is not likely to hold either in arbitration or in a court, because the arbitrator is bound by the same law. So I don't think we're going to see, as we have heard in the media or other places, a $20 million judgment against her in light of this.

    There might be very little damages that would flow from this violation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's the judgment — that's effort by the Trump representatives to come back at her.

    But what about her case to get out of that agreement and be able to go out and tell her story, which she is doing?

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    Sure. She is doing it. So her case to invalidate the agreement, it's probably not very strong, in that I think looking at the complaint or the agreement it's probably likely any judge is going to see through and identify Mr. Trump as party of the agreement, number one.

    Number two is, there's been performance in part on the agreement, meaning she's kept silent and she got the money. So, arguably, that is probably valid itself. The question then, is it enforceable? Can the other side get money from her for violating it?

    And, again, because there's not a lot of damage to his reputation, arguably, it's probably hard to see those numbers flowing against her.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you also have this lawsuit by Karen McDougal, who is seeking to invalidate the agreement she signed with American Media, Incorporated, the company that owns The National Enquirer. And we have read about that.

    Essentially, she's saying, they paid me for my exclusive rights to the story, but then they never ran it, the so-called catch-and-kill process.

    How strong does that case look to you?

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    That case is different from the other case, in that she entered into what she understood to be money for actual work. And in exchange, she was going to keep — basically sell the rights to her story about any married man to The National Enquirer.

    And she's really asking for a declaration, we call it, a statement by the judge saying, the agreement is invalid. At this point, she's telling her story. It's hard to see what is going to actually flow from that lawsuit either direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So we may not learn that much more as that lawsuit moves forward?

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    Correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, then, finally, there's the woman named Summer Zervos. She is the one who was on the president's then show "Apprentice," "Celebrity Apprentice."

    She is now accusing the president of defamation because she said that she and other women, what they said are all lies. What about her?

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    That's a more interesting case for a number of reasons.

    First of all, the president came in, in that case and said, listen, you cannot sue me because I am the president of the United States. I am — I need to spend my time doing presidential things. And the court overruled or rejected that argument, which means two things.

    One, the court looked at Clinton vs. Jones, the Supreme Court decision, where Bill Clinton raised a similar argument, and the court said, no, you can actually be subject to litigation, civil litigation, as a sitting president.

    And the court said in this instance, look, what's good for Mr. Clinton is good for Mr. Trump. That's number one.

    Number two, so I don't — it's unlikely that will be reversed on appeal, I think. Number two is, this mean the case is going to go to discovery. And defamation…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meaning there are questions, documents. People are interviewed.

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    Discovery is the fact-gathering process in a lawsuit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    It means interviewing people through what is called a deposition, which would include probably Mr. Trump. It means getting documents, any kind of electronic information.

    And the defense to defamation is truth. So, really, in that instance, what the case is going to be about is who's telling truth with respect to that relationship.

    And that could be problematic, both in terms of the public relations element of it. And recall, and I worked on Whitewater, Mr. Clinton was ultimately impeached for statements he made in connection with a civil deposition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, are you saying that that third lawsuit by Summer Zervos could potentially pose the greatest threat to the president?

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    I believe so, both in terms of the facts that could come out.

    And, also, I think the ruling on stating that this president can be held civilly liable is relevant really to his liability for indictment as well, because there's a number of legal documents or arguments that go both ways in terms of whether a sitting president could be indicted by Mr. Mueller.

    The document that says that he cannot is an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, which is kind of the Supreme Court of the Department of Justice. And that decision came before the Supreme Court decisions in the Paula Jones case.

    So, I think it has to be read in light of that. And this is kind of putting that a little bit on the front burner.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I think it's fascinating people hadn't thought about the connection between what these women are alleging and the Robert Mueller, special counsel investigation, but you're saying there could be links.

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    Well, there could be links from a legal standpoint in terms of, if that were ever to turn into an indictment, President Trump would say, listen, I'm the president, you can't indict me.

    I do think that precedent is going to bear on that particular question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kimberly Wehle, former federal prosecutor, we thank you very much.

  • Kimberly Wehle:

    Thanks for having me.

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