Harry Truman used to have a plaque on his desk – The Buck Stops Here, it said. It was a way of making clear the president is the final authority: If you’ve got a problem, you’ll have to take the issue up with him. “Every president is subject to quite a few lawsuits challenging their official actions; that’s relatively common,” Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota tells Rolling Stone. In his capacity as president, Trump has been sued for shrinking national monuments in Utah, proposing that a controversial citizenship question be added to the 2020 Census, ending protective status for Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants and delaying environmental protections, among other cases. But, Painter says of Trump, “This amount of litigation involving personal business and other matters is entirely without precedent.”
Trump’s penchant for litigation was legendary before he became president, but he’s kept it up while in office. He’s dealing with ongoing legal matters on accusations ranging from sexual misconduct to defamation to improper business dealings. Most recently, former Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe is planning to sue Trump for wrongful termination and other civil claims. Before that happens, here’s a quick rundown of some of the president’s biggest personal lawsuits since he took office.
Backstory: In a complaint not personally against President Trump but very much “about” him, ex-Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal sued American Media Inc. to get out of a nondisclosure agreement she signed concerning her life story. The agreement essentially prevented McDougal from speaking publicly about an alleged 10-month affair she had with Trump starting in 2006. AMI, which publishes the National Enquirer (among other brands), is owned by Trump ally David Pecker, and the company is known to purchase and then bury stories that could be harmful to Pecker’s powerful friends. A representative from AMI told the New York Times the company had chosen not to publish McDougal’s story because AMI staffers had been unable to verify important details.
Why it matters: In the complaint, McDougal said that Trump’s now embattled lawyer, Michael Cohen, had secretly worked with the company to buy her silence.
The latest: Following the FBI raid on Cohen’s home and office, McDougal reached a settlement with AMI that will allow her to speak about her alleged months-long affair with Trump. This is another event that suggests Cohen and Trump could be worried about facing discovery in court. McDougal’s lawyer, who also represents the adult film star Stormy Daniels, is reportedly cooperating with the FBI’s Cohen probe.
Backstory: Porn star Stormy Daniels sued Trump arguing that because he never signed the 2016 non-disclosure agreement designed to keep her from publicly discussing their alleged affair, the contract is invalid. Shortly after Daniels filed her suit on March 6, 2018, Trump responded. His lawyers filed a motion against her for $20 million, claiming she broke the NDA. They also moved to have the case transferred from California state court to federal court, possibly to keep the case in arbitration and out of public view.
Why it matters: If the case goes to trial, Trump could be forced to testify under oath about his past behavior.
The latest: Cohen has announced he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in the Daniels case.
The Emoluments Clause
Backstory: Attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and the state of Maryland claim that government officials stay at hotels owned by the Trump Organization in order to favorably impress the president. This pattern, they claim, is a violation of the Emoluments Clause, a rule in the Constitution meant to prevent corruption by limiting the ways presidents can profit from their post. It’s one of the more successful cases among several that have challenged Trump’s refusal to divest himself from his businesses. Originally brought against the president in his official capacity, it has been expanded to include suing him as a private businessman, too.
Why it matters: Depending on how it proceeds, this case has the potential to force Trump to reveal his tax returns if it reaches the discovery phase. Critics say the attorneys general filed the suit just to get more information about the president. The plaintiffs say they want to stop Trump from breaking Constitutional law.
The latest: At the end of March, a federal judge rejected the Justice Department’s request to dismiss the suit on the grounds that there was no proof that Trump’s hotels were taking business from other properties. It’s moving forward for now.
Backstory: Zervos, a former competitor on The Apprentice who accused Trump of sexual misconduct in October 2016, sued Trump for defamation after he called his accusers liars who wanted to help Hillary Clinton win the election.
Why it matters: Zervos’ complaint is notable because it is the only one against the president that involves accusations of sexual assault. Although she isn’t directly suing for assault – the statute of limitations has expired – this could be the start of justice for Trump’s many accusers, especially others who have been defamed by his comments. Furthermore, if Trump is deposed, he could face a situation similar to President Bill Clinton, whose perjury during a sexual harassment trial led to his impeachment.
The latest: In late March, lawyer Gloria Allred withdrew from Zervos’ case. Zervos cited personal reasons for their split and Allred said the choice had nothing to do with merits of the case. In early April, Trump’s legal team appealed a New York Supreme Court judge’s decision to let the case move forward in state court after their initial attempt to block it.