The Justice Department can’t intervene in the defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump filed by E. Jean Carroll, a longtime magazine columnist who’s accused Trump of raping her decades ago, a federal judge ruled Tuesday morning.
In June 2019, after Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s, Trump denied any wrongdoing and claimed that Carroll was “not my type.” Carroll sued Trump for defamation, and for almost a year the case played out in New York state court, where Trump was defended by his personal lawyers.
But in September, the Department of Justice got involved. The DOJ essentially argued that because Trump is an “employee” of the federal government whose comments were made within the scope of his employment, it is the United States of America—not Donald Trump the man—who should be the defendant in Carroll’s case.
That argument, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote Tuesday, won’t fly.
“The undisputed facts demonstrate that President Trump was not acting in furtherance of any duties owed to any arguable employer when he made the statements at issue,” Kaplan wrote in a 59-page ruling. “His comments concerned an alleged sexual assault that took place several decades before he took office, and the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States.”
“To conclude otherwise would require the Court to adopt a view that virtually everything the president does is within the public interest by virtue of his office. The government has provided no support for that theory, and the Court rejects it as too expansive.”
Kaplan also pointed out that because the United States is a sovereign nation with sovereign immunity, it's protected from some attempts to sue for money damages. Like, say, Carroll’s defamation lawsuit.
“If this really is a suit against the United States, it is one to which the United States seemingly has not waived its sovereign immunity. So if President Trump is an ‘employee of the Government’ within the meaning of the [Federal Tort Claims Act], and if his statements about Ms. Carroll were within ‘the scope of his employment,’ it could well be argued that this case must be dismissed because the United States has sovereign immunity,” Kaplan wrote. The Federal Tort Claims Act is the statute at the heart of Kaplan’s analysis of the case.
“In that event, Ms. Carroll would be left with no remedy, even if the president’s statements were false and defamatory.”
The Department of Justice didn’t immediately reply to a VICE News request for comment. But the ruling is undoubtedly a victory for Carroll’s legal team, which includes Roberta Kaplan, a co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
“There is not a single person in the United States—not the President and not anyone else—whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted,” Carroll’s lawyers wrote in an early October filing in the case. “That should not be a controversial proposition.”
Carroll, who served as a columnist for Elle magazine, first outlined her allegations against Trump in New York magazine in an excerpt of her memoir published in June 2019.