Trump’s case against Omarosa exposes another problem: Unpaid legal bills

In the action against Manigault Newman, the campaign may simply let the case dissolve. In 2018, the Trump campaign filed an arbitration case against the former West Wing aide over her book, which rocked the White House with stories of Trump using lewd, sexist and racist language. At one point, Trump’s attorneys suggested Newman pay for a nearly $1 million ad campaign “to counteract the long-term adverse effects” of her remarks.

Yet the campaign has thus far stiffed the arbitrator assigned to mediate the case, according to a letter sent to the parties in the case. If Trump’s attorneys don’t pay the outstanding bill by next week, the case could be tossed out.

The dispute over Manigault Newman’s book is far from the only legal thread left dangling for the Trump campaign.

The campaign is helping fight accusations Trump harassed and sexually assaulted women. It’s helping keep documents about his business deals hidden. Other cases are proactive, such as attempts to enforce nondisclosure agreements and to punish media companies the campaign accuses of defamation. And it is responding to lawsuits from people who say they were assaulted at Trump events, including one from a Missouri man who claimed he was arrested after laughing at a MAGA rally.

Taken together, the cases reflect the legal morass the Trump campaign will face, win or lose, after Nov. 3.

“Even if he loses the election, very little actually ends once Trump leaves the White House in January 2021,” said Bradley Moss, a Washington lawyer whose firm represented former White House aide Cliff Sims, who was the target of a Trump campaign suit for violating a nondisclosure agreement when he published his own White House memoir.

“Litigation Trump has personally brought under his own name or through the campaign, whether it be protecting his tax returns or suing Omarosa, will continue for however long there is money to pay the lawyers,” Moss added.

The Trump campaign and its attorney, Charles Harder, known for representing wrestler Hulk Hogan in his sex tape lawsuit against Gawker, did not respond to questions about the Manigault Newman case and the unpaid bill.

It’s not the first time Trump, a businessman with a global real estate footprint, and his campaign have faced accusations that they didn’t pay the bills.

Private contractors, bartenders, painters, real estate brokers and others have all claimed that Trump didn’t adequately compensate them for their work before he was sworn into office. More recently, Trump has been accused of failing to pay local officials who provide thousands of dollars’ in security assistance to the president’s campaign during rallies.

The Trump campaign’s financial outlook is also faltering in the election’s final weeks. Trump has fallen behind Biden on fundraising. In August, Democrats for the first time outraised Republicans by a staggering $154 million, eroding the president’s longstanding cash-on-hand advantage. The pattern repeated itself in September, when Biden raised $383 million to Trump’s $247.8 million.

The Manigault Newman standoff stretches back to 2018, when the Trump campaign initially filed its arbitration case, considered a cheaper and quicker alternative to a lawsuit when attempting to resolve a dispute, according to attorneys. But in the Oct. 14 letter, the American Arbitration Association said the campaign had yet to pay its $51,940 deposit, a required upfront payment to cover the arbitrator’s costs.

“Note that if the matter of unpaid deposits is not resolved by October 29, 2020, the arbitrator will be asked to determine whether this proceeding should be suspended,” the letter states.

John Phillips, a lawyer who represents Manigault Newman, confirmed Monday that he received a copy of the letter, which suggests Manigault Newman could pay the costs to the association if she wanted to keep the case active.

“The Trump campaign has refused to show damages with any particularity until recently saying they want Omarosa Manigault Newman to pay for campaign ads, which directly seems to violate many election laws,” he said in a statement. “Now the campaign is causing more legal expenses and time spent because they won’t pay their bills for their arbitration. We privately and publicly ask they dismiss these frivolous claims and pay our client’s legal fees.”

Manigault Newman left the White House in December 2017 after a short, tumultuous tenure in which she served as the administration’s highest-profile liaison to the African American community. The White House said Manigault Newman was fired, but she claims to have resigned.

After leaving the administration, Manigault Newman said she refused to sign the White House’s nondisclosure agreement. She did acknowledge signing one for Trump’s 2016 campaign and another in 2003 when she was on Trump’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”

Those NDAs have been described as more restrictive than the White House agreement. A copy of a Trump campaign NDA previously obtained by POLITICO included a nondisparagement clause that prohibited staffers from releasing confidential or detrimental information about Trump, his business or his family members.

It’s unclear whether the Trump campaign has previously paid any money to the arbitrator in the Manigault Newman case. According to Federal Election Commission records, the Trump campaign did pay the American Arbitration Association $43,400 in 2019, but the record does not specify whether that amount is part of the outstanding fee or even part of the Manigault Newman case. In its September FEC filing, the campaign did not list any debts to the arbitrator association. The association declined to comment, saying its cases are confidential.

Already, the Trump campaign has spent millions of dollars on completed legal work, including helping defend Trump against allegations he worked with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election and on his impeachment trial, during which he was accused of pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter.

The campaign has also teamed up with the Republican National Committee on more than 40 lawsuits challenging voting rules in states across the country. An RNC official said the official Republican Party is not involved in any non-voting cases.

“We anticipate most of these will be moot after the election, although a few may not be, and we will continue to litigate as necessary,” the official said.

Separately, the campaign faces an ongoing federal investigation into whether it violated campaign finance laws in 2016 when it paid hush money to women alleging affairs with Trump.

“They’re not going to be shutting down in two, six, eight months,” said Joe Birkenstock, who previously served as chief counsel of the Democratic National Committee, of the Trump campaign. “Think of it in terms of years.”

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