Trump sued by female strategist for inciting ‘mob’

Erik Larson
Bloomberg News

Billionaire presidential candidate Donald J. Trump is accused in a lawsuit of inciting a “virtual mob” to bully a female political strategist into silence after the fellow Republican questioned his fitness for office.

Cheryl Jacobus, a New York public relations specialist, claims the real estate magnate and his national campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, tried to destroy her reputation when their relationship soured over comments she made in on-air interviews. She is seeking $4 million in damages.

“The attacks by Trump’s followers were laced with sexual degradation and pornographic vulgarity,” Jacobus said in the defamation suit filed Monday in Manhattan. The attacks also allegedly included altered images of Jacobus depicting her “as an appropriate victim for rape and sexual assault.”

Trump’s rallies have been frequently marred by clashes between supporters and protesters, resulting in shoving, punching and accusations that Trump has encouraged such violence, a claim he denies. This month, Florida officials decided not to prosecute Lewandowski after he was charged with battery for grabbing a reporter who was questioning Trump.

“This is just another frivolous lawsuit and an attempt to gain notoriety at the expense of Donald Trump,” said Hope Hicks, a Trump campaign spokeswoman.

CNN interview

Jacobus claims Trump lashed out at her even though she had defended some of his policies, including during a CNN interview in which she accused Democrats of misrepresenting his views on undocumented immigrants to unfairly portray him as racist. Her criticism of Trump included on-air remarks that he insulted veterans by disparaging the military career of Senator John McCain.

The complaint cited Trump’s Feb. 2 post on Twitter that Jacobus “went hostile” after being denied a job, telling his then 6 million followers that she was a “real dummy!” He also called her a “major loser” with “zero credibility,” in a separate tweet.

Jacobus was a frequent political commentator on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News after having worked for former House Republican leader Rob Michel of Illinois and former Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, according to her lawsuit. But Trump’s tweets caused “enormous damage to her career and reputation, significant emotional distress and holding her up to public ridicule,” she said. Her media appearances were canceled and future bookings dried up, she said.

Job claims

Trump said publicly that Jacobus begged him for a job in an effort to belittle her, according to the suit. In fact, Jacobus claims, the Trump campaign had tried to recruit her as a communications director. Jacobus says she declined the job due to Lewandowski’s “erratic” behavior during a June 2015 meeting at Trump Tower.

“Boorish behavior by Lewandowski led Jacobus to conclude that she would not be comfortable working for the Trump campaign,” according to the suit. She called Lewandowski a “powder keg.”

Jacobus also claims that during her interview at Trump Tower she overheard Lewandowski discussing the candidate’s close relationship with Fox News and its chief, Roger Ailes. She claims Lewandowski bragged about yelling at Fox News’s anchor Megyn Kelly and said the Trump campaign could “do whatever they wanted with Fox” and had the news channel “on its side,” according to the suit.

Fox News

“Jacobus was astonished that Lewandowski would openly make such a statement to her,” according to the suit. The encounter got stranger from there, Jacobus claims, when Lewandowski showed her a printed e-mail in which Ailes tells Trump he “should let him know what Fox could do to help.”

“You have absolutely NO IDEA how FOX works!” Lewandowski said to Jacobus, according to the complaint.

Trump’s relationship with Fox News soured after he attacked Kelly for treating him “unfairly” at the first debate of the election cycle, prompting the network to issue a response mocking Trump for backing out of a debate on the channel. “The truth is he doesn’t get to control the media,” Kelly said on her show at the time.

“It’s hardly uncommon for Roger Ailes to sign correspondence by offering a helping hand, but it would be a fanciful interpretation to equate a cordial e-mail with providing assistance to a political candidate in the vein of editorial coverage,” a spokesperson for Fox News said Monday in a statement.

PAC talk

Jacobus said that during the same meeting at Trump Tower, Lewandowski surprised her by discussing a pro-Trump super-PAC in her presence, because she hadn’t been hired by the campaign and hadn’t signed a non-disclosure agreement.

She “was compelled to ask them why such a super-PAC was even needed, given Trump’s strong public proclamations that his campaign would be self-funded,” according to the suit.

Jacobus says she gave the information to a reporter at the Washington Post for an October 2015 story about whether Trump had inappropriate ties to the super-PAC, which was eventually shut down, according to the suit. She says she also discussed the super-PAC extensively during an appearance on CNN, saying Trump had lied about it.

According to Jacobus, that’s when the attacks began.