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Lawyer Sues Trump, Saying He'd Rather Not

Washington, D.C., lawyer Jeffrey Lovitky is suing President Trump over Trump's financial disclosure forms.
Peter Overby
Washington, D.C., lawyer Jeffrey Lovitky is suing President Trump over Trump's financial disclosure forms.

What's it like to sue President Trump? For Jeffrey Lovitky, with a one-lawyer firm in Washington, D.C., it's not a great feeling.

"It is intimidating. I am intimidated," he said in an interview with NPR. "I mean, I would rather not be doing this."

But he has done it, and when he couldn't enlist anyone else to be the plaintiff, he took on that role, too.

"I think people are afraid to put their name out there on a lawsuit against the president," he said. "There is a sense that Donald Trump can be very difficult on people who oppose him."

So the case is Jeffrey A. Lovitky, attorney at law, v. Donald J. Trump, in his official capacity as President of the United States, filed in federal district court in Washington. It's one of 108 federal lawsuits naming Trump as a defendant since he took office Jan. 20.

Lovitky called Trump's ascension to the Oval Office "unprecedented," since Trump owns an international business empire and also will be "making the most critical decisions that will affect our country for years to come."

Lovitky said, "We need to know as much about his financial situation as we can."

Since 1990, Lovitky has been lawyering in the esoterica of government, a one-man law firm specializing in federal contracting law and health care. His office is a single room just large enough for a desk, a credenza, three bookcases and two chairs.

His lawsuits often name a Cabinet secretary as defendant, but Lovitky has never before sued a president.

When he decided to look into Trump, he focused on the president's personal financial disclosure, filed last May. Indeed, there was something wrong in the report.

It is supposed to disclose a candidate's personal liabilities, but not corporate liabilities, which it doesn't even ask for. Trump's report lists some corporate debt along with the personal, and it's impossible to tell which is which.

Odd, but not exactly Watergate.

"It's very possible it was just an error," Lovitky said. "May have been very well intentioned even."

But, he said, accidental or not, the report withholds from citizens something the law says they should have: an accounting of the president's personal liabilities.

He filed his lawsuit.

"That's all it means. It means insisting on compliance," he said.

Now that the suit is filed, Lovitky is preparing a brief for the expected counterattack: a motion to dismiss the case for lack of standing. If he can get over that hurdle, he could end up setting a precedent that ordinary Americans can sue to seek enforcement of federal ethics laws.

He said his decision to sue came from a sense of duty, saying: "You go back to the basic premise of what is each individual's civic responsibility? What do you owe?"

No date has been set for the White House to respond to the suit.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.