Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seeking $10m in damages from a former senior campaign consultant, claiming he leaked confidential information to reporters.
In a court filing Sam Nunberg accused Trump of trying to silence him “in a misguided attempt to cover up media coverage of an apparent affair” between two senior campaign staff members.
The highly unusual legal dispute reflects Trump’s efforts to aggressively protect the secrecy of his campaign’s inner workings.
And it follows former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s $115m privacy win earlier this year over a sex tape which has prompted gossip website Gawker to file for bankruptcy.
The USA has previously been seen as a bastion of free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment to its constitution.
It was reported last month that Trump requires nearly everyone in his campaign and businesses to sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements prohibiting them from releasing any confidential or disparaging information about the billionaire businessman, his family or his companies. Trump has also said he would consider requiring such agreements in the White House.
In the court filings, Nunberg denied disparaging Trump and accused the presumptive Republican nominee of attempting to “bully” him into silence after he decided to publicly support Texas senator Ted Cruz’s presidential bid.
“Mr Trump’s actions in starting a $10m arbitration, seeking to silence Mr Nunberg and have the proceedings sealed, are a cautionary tale of what the American people face if Mr Trump is elected president,” said Andrew Miltenberg, Nunberg’s lawyer.
Miltenberg said Trump’s lawyer argued for the documents to be sealed in a hearing on Wednesday morning.
In particular, Nunberg said Trump filed a $10m claim against him and falsely accused him of being a source of a New York Post story from mid-May that recounted a public quarrel between former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks.
Lewandowski was fired from the campaign in June after months of tension with other senior Trump advisers.
Nunberg denied being the source of the article, but in court papers referred to the quarrel as being part of an “apparent affair”.
Hicks did not respond to detailed requests to respond to the allegations sent via email and text, as well as a voicemail.
Nunberg has filed the court documents in an attempt to block private arbitration proceedings initiated by Trump in May.
In addition to asserting a right to discuss the campaign on free speech grounds, Nunberg’s lawsuit also argued that the campaign’s arbitration claim was invalid because it was brought by an exploratory group Mr Trump formed for his 2012 campaign, “which has nothing to do with the Trump Campaign’s activities in the 2016 presidential campaign cycle”.
“The Trump Campaign was not in existence prior to or at the time of the agreement, and Mr Nunberg did not agree or intend that it apply to any future entity such as the Trump Campaign,” Nunberg’s complaint said.
An affidavit filed by Sam Nunberg’s mother, Rebecca Citron Nunberg, said the Trump entity bringing the claim against Sam Nunberg is not registered in the state of New York, depriving it of its ability to pursue legal claims against him.