A federal judge on Tuesday rejected arguments from the Justice Department seeking to intervene in a defamation lawsuit brought against President Donald Trump by magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, ruling that the president is not a federal employee and was not acting within the scope of his office last year when he denied her claim that he raped her in the 1990s.
In a memoir published last year, Carroll said Trump assaulted her in a dressing room at a New York City department store in 1995 or 1996. After her allegations were publicized, the president denied having ever met Carroll and told reporters that “there were numerous cases where women were paid money to say bad things about me.” In an interview with The Hill, Trump added, “No. 1, she’s not my type.”
Carroll filed a defamation suit against the president in November 2019, accusing him of “malicious libel.” Last month, the Justice Department sought to substitute itself for Trump under the Federal Tort Claims Act, arguing that Trump was forced to respond to Carroll’s lawsuit to prove he was physically and mentally fit for the presidency.
However, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that the Federal Tort Claims Act does not apply to Trump and that the argument that Trump’s comments were made in the course of his duties “goes much too far.”
“Accepting (the argument) would mean that 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 inflects in the person defamed,” Kaplan wrote in an order filed Tuesday in court.
“Indeed, the same would be true for many government officials, who plausibly could argue that criticism of their behavior or character, even if completely unrelated to their government employment, would undermine their ability to perform effectively while in office.”
In a post on Twitter, Carroll said she was “Overjoyed” by the decision.
“The DOJ and (Trump) TOGETHER, can’t stop a woman who wants the world to know the truth!” she wrote. “This win is for every woman in the country!”
In a statement obtained by The Associated Press, Roberta Kaplan, one of Carroll’s attorneys, called Tuesday’s ruling a clear victory for her client.
“The simple truth is that 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,” Kaplan said.
Previously, a New York State judge rejected Trump’s claim that, as president, he is immune to civil lawsuits in state courts, according to The New York Times. Carroll’s attorneys have asked that the president sit for a deposition and provide a DNA sample to compare to genetic material on a dress Carroll claims she wore at the time of the attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.