Trump Can’t Dodge E. Jean Carroll Suit, Judge Says

E. Jean Carroll claimed an early victory in her defamation suit against President Trump.

In a brief Tuesday order, a New York federal judge rejected the President’s attempt to have the U.S. Department of Justice take over the defense of the case against him, removing him as an individual defendant. Carroll last year sued Trump for defamation over public comments he made in response to allegations she made in a memoir that he raped her in the early Nineties.

While Trump’s private legal team had attempted to push the case back to until he is out of office, whenever that may be, at a local New York court, the case was suddenly removed to federal court this past summer with the DOJ attempting to take over. Should the Justice Department have been permitted to intervene on Trump’s behalf, arguing he is an “employee” of the U.S. government, Carroll’s case would have likely come to an end because most government employees are immune from defamation suits while in their positions.

But the judge undermined the DOJ’s argument, ruling that “The President of the United States is not ‘an employee of the government’ within the meaning of the relevant statutes.”

The judge added, “Trump’s allegedly defamatory statements concerning Ms. Carroll would not have been within the scope of his employment. Accordingly, the motion to substitute the United States in place of President Trump is denied.”

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A lawyer for Carroll said she is “pleased” with the decision and that Carroll is looking forward to proceeding with her lawsuit “against Trump in his personal capacity at federal court.”

“President Trump defamed our client because she was brave enough to reveal that he had sexually assaulted her, and that brutal, personal attack cannot be attributed to the Office of the President,” the lawyer added.

“As [the judge] observed: ‘A comment about government action, public policy, or even an election is categorically different than a comment about an alleged sexual assault that took place roughly 20 years before the president took office.’ In response to the DOJ’s startling claim that virtually anything that Donald Trump says is within his scope of employment as President, the court explained that “accepting [that position] would mean a president is free to defame anyone who criticizes his conduct or impugns his character — without adverse consequences to that president and no matter what injury he inflicts on the person defamed.’”

Carroll, a longtime magazine writer and advice columnist for Elle based in New York, filed her lawsuit against Trump claiming he defamed her publicly by calling her rape accusation “fiction.” He also implied that she is paid as a Democratic operative — and so is New York Magazine, where her allegation first appeared as part of a review of her book.

The DOJ move to take over the case came as the lower court also appeared likely to rule that Trump was not immune. Lawyers for Carroll argued in August that Trump could no longer claim immunity from her lawsuit simply because he is a sitting president, given a recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court. The court found in early July that a president is not immune from criminal investigations and subpoenas, stemming from a legal investigation into Trump’s financial dealings by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who had demanded his tax records. 

Lawyers for Trump claimed the Supreme Court ruling did not apply to Carroll’s case because hers was a civil lawsuit at the state level, not a criminal one, and the High Court ruling only applied to criminal cases.

Now in federal court, that argument has been rejected.

A representative for the DOJ could not be reached for comment, nor could a representative for Carroll.

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