Court Battles

Judge blocks DOJ from defending Trump in lawsuit over rape allegation

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) effort to intervene on President Trump’s behalf in a lawsuit over a writer’s accusation that he raped her in the mid-1990s.

Judge Lewis Kaplan, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled the president is not an employee of the government and that the allegations don’t regard conduct in his official capacity. 

E. Jean Carroll, a former magazine columnist, sued Trump in his personal capacity for defamation last year after he publicly denied her allegation of rape. Kaplan’s ruling means Trump cannot use the DOJ to defend him in the case.

“President Trump’s comments concerned media reports about an alleged sexual assault that took place more than twenty years before he took office,” Kaplan, who was appointed by former President Clinton, wrote in his 61-page decision. “Neither the media reports nor the underlying allegations have any relationship to his official duties.” 

Carroll published her allegation in June 2019 in New York magazine, writing that Trump, then a private businessman, sexually assaulted her in a department store dressing room.

Trump denied the allegations, saying “she’s not my type.”

A White House spokesman was not immediately able to comment. A spokeswoman for the DOJ declined to comment.

Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s attorney, hailed the decision.

“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,” Roberta Kaplan said. “We look forward to moving forward with E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against Donald Trump in his personal capacity in federal court.”

The DOJ had successfully moved the case from New York state court to federal court earlier this year. It later argued that Trump is covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act, a law that allows certain suits to be brought against government employees acting in their official capacity.

But the law does not allow for defamation cases against government officials, meaning that if the judge had sided with the DOJ over the issue, Carroll’s suit would likely have been thrown out.

The DOJ argued that Trump was acting in official capacity when he addressed Carroll’s allegations, partly because refuting her claims would help him better carry out his duties. But the judge on Tuesday ruled that theory would be far too expansive if it were adopted by the courts.

“While the government’s position is not entirely without merit, it goes much too far,” the judge wrote. “Accepting it would mean that a president is free [to] defame anyone who criticizes his conduct or impugns his characterwithout adverse consequences to that president and no matter what injury he inflicts on the person defamed.”

Updated at 11:28 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump

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