A former New York advice columnist who says Donald Trump defamed her when he denied raping her two decades ago urged a federal appeals court to reject the former president’s claim that he’s protected from her lawsuit because he was a government employee when it was filed.
E. Jean Carroll asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan to affirm a trial judge’s finding that the suit isn’t blocked by a federal law that protects government workers from lawsuits related to their jobs. The U.S. Justice Department under Trump backed his argument before he lost re-election, and the Biden administration hasn’t weighed in.
“Trump has tried and failed repeatedly to get my lawsuit booted, Carroll said in an emailed statement. “I am confident that the Second Circuit will make it clear that no president, including Donald Trump, can get away scot-free with maliciously defaming a woman he sexually assaulted.
Carroll has been trying to push ahead with the legal process of exchanging information in the case, including deposing Trump and securing a DNA sample from him. It’s one of several legal threats facing Trump after his failed bid for a second term, including a similar suit by former “Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, who also claims Trump defamed her by denying he groped and forcefully kissed her.
The Zervos case got back on track in March after New York’s highest court agreed the matter should continue now that the onetime reality-TV host is no longer president.
Trump has denied both women’s claims.
Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, said in a filing late Friday that Trump launched a series of “vicious, personal attacks on Carroll in 2019 when she went public with her claim that Trump raped her in department store dressing room in Manhattan in the 1990s. His remarks about Carroll don’t qualify as presidential duties under the law, the lawyer said.
Trump “implied that she was too ugly to rape; that she had falsely accused other men of sexual assault; and that she had invented her story for money, or to sell books, or to advance a political plot. None of this was true, Kaplan said. The former president “knew what he was doing when he went on a defamation rampage designed to crush her -- to punish and retaliate against her -- for daring to reveal his decades-old crime.
Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, didn’t immediately reply an emailed request for comment sent after midnight Friday.
The appeals court will determine whether Trump qualified as an employee of the government under the Westfall Act of 1988, which protects federal workers from being personally sued for actions related to their official duties. The court will also decide whether Trump was acting within the scope of his office when he made the allegedly defamatory remarks about Carroll.
Trump in June 2019 told reporters: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened.
Trump in January argued that his comments about Carroll stemmed from his “public response to allegations challenging his fitness for office.
If the court sides with Trump, the U.S. will be substituted for the former president as defendant in the suit. That case would then be dismissed because the government can’t be sued for defamation.
The Justice Department may weigh in again now that Trump left office, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Biden administration will accept Carroll’s arguments about the law. The Westfall Act has previously been applied to other presidents in litigation, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, though under very different circumstances. The new administration may want to use the act to protect a president as well and argue that Trump’s specific comments about Carroll were part of his official duties.
“Just a week before President Biden’s inauguration, Trump’s private lawyers and the DOJ joined forces to argue on appeal that when Trump called me a liar who was too ugly to rape, he was somehow being presidential, Carroll said in her statement. “This is offensive to me. It is offensive to sexual assault victims everywhere. I hope that it is offensive to the Justice Department under President Biden.
The case is Carroll v. Trump, 20-cv-07311, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).