Washington (AP) -- In a highly unusual campaign dispute, Donald Trump is seeking $10 million in damages from his former political consultant Sam Nunberg, arguing Nunberg violated the nondisclosure agreement nearly every Trump employee is required to sign.
Trump alleges Nunberg leaked confidential information to reporters. Nunberg, in a court filing obtained by The Associated Press, contends Trump is trying to silence him "in a misguided attempt to cover up media coverage of an apparent affair" between two senior campaign staffers.
Trump's decision to take legal action against a fired staffer in the midst of a presidential race is part of the businessman's pattern of aggressively protecting the secrecy of his campaign, companies and family. The AP reported last month that nearly every Trump employee — both in the campaign and his businesses — must sign legally binding nondisclosure agreements prohibiting them from releasing any confidential or disparaging information about the real estate mogul, his family or his companies.
Nunberg's filing comes at a crucial political moment for Trump. He's on the verge of picking his running mate and is preparing for next week's Republican convention, one of his highest profile opportunities to reach voters and ease the concerns of GOP leaders who are concerned about his unconventional candidacy.
In the court filings, Nunberg denied disparaging Trump and accused the presumptive GOP nominee of attempting to "bully" him into silence after Nunberg decided to publicly support Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential bid.
"Mr. Trump's actions in starting a $10 million 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 attorney. Miltenberg said Trump's attorney backed off Thursday from trying to seal documents.
Trump attorney Alan Garten repeatedly declined to refer to Nunberg by name, but described him as "a person who has a history of making untrue, outlandish and outrageous allegations."
Nunberg was a consultant to Trump's presidential campaign but was fired in August because of racist posts he wrote on Facebook.
Nunberg has been highly critical of Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, both professionally and personally. In a recent GQ Magazine interview, he said he would suck the "blood of out of (Lewandowski's) skull by the time I'm done with him."
In the court filings, Nunberg said Trump filed a $10 million arbitration 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 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."
Garten told the AP that Nunberg's allegations about Hicks and Lewandowski are "categorically untrue." Reached by phone, Lewandowski said he was "not familiar with the court case" and would not comment on Nunberg's allegations.
Hicks did not respond to detailed requests to respond to the allegations sent via email and text, as well as a voicemail.
Lewandowski helped Trump upset 16 primary rivals, a stunning feat for the political novice and a campaign manager with little presidential campaign experience. But Lewandowski clashed with other campaign staffers and was viewed by GOP leaders as unprepared to oversee a general election campaign.
Since Lewandowski's firing, Trump's campaign has shown flashes of operating more professionally, with the candidate giving more prepared speeches in addition to his freewheeling rallies.
Nunberg 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 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.
Nunberg says in court papers that Trump improperly used the entity, "Trump 2012 PCA," while the billionaire "toyed" with a presidential run in 2012. Nunberg also accuses the entity of conducting business illegally in the state of New York.
In a separate affidavit, Nunberg's mother, Rebecca Citron Nunberg, said the entity bringing the claim against her son is not registered in the state of New York, depriving it of its ability to pursue legal claims against him.
At a court proceeding Thursday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Justice Eileen Bransten signed an order saying attorneys agreed to suspend arbitration proceedings while she decides how the case proceeds.
Outside court, Rebecca Nunberg said she was pleased the case will be aired publicly.
"The public has a right to know," she said, adding that her son had a "very close personal relationship" with Trump for 3 ½ years.
Her husband, Noah Nunberg, said his son did nothing wrong.
"You need a court," he said.
Associated Press writer Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report.