US judge rejects DoJ bid to shield Trump from rape defamation lawsuit
A federal judge on Tuesday denied Donald Trump’s request that he be replaced as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit alleging he raped a woman in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s.
The decision by US district judge Lewis A Kaplan came after the justice department argued that the United States – and by extension US taxpayers – should replace Trump as the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the columnist E Jean Carroll.
The government’s lawyers contended that the United States could step in as the defendant because Trump was forced to respond to her lawsuit to prove he was physically and mentally fit for the job.
The judge ruled that a law protecting federal employees from being sued individually for things they do within the scope of their employment didn’t apply to a president. But even if it did, Kaplan ruled, Trump’s public denials of the rape allegation would have come outside the scope of his employment.
Lawyers for Carroll had written that “only in a world gone mad could it somehow be presidential, not personal, for Trump to slander a woman who he sexually assaulted”.
In a statement, Carroll said: “When I spoke out about what Donald Trump did to me in a department store dressing room, I was speaking out against an individual. When Donald Trump called me a liar and denied that he had ever met me, he was not speaking on behalf of the United States.
“I am happy that Judge Kaplan recognized these basic truths. As the judge recognized today, the question whether President Trump raped me 20 years ago in a department store is at ‘the heart’ of this lawsuit. We can finally return to answering that question, and getting the truth out.”
Roberta Kaplan, counsel to Carroll, said: “We are very pleased that the federal court interpreted the plain text of Federal Tort Claims Act as not covering President Trump’s false statements about our 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.”
The justice department relied solely on written arguments after its lawyer was banned from a Manhattan federal courthouse last week because he had not quarantined for two weeks after traveling to New York from a state where coronavirus positive test rates were high.
Carroll, a former longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine, said in her lawsuit that in the fall of 1995 or spring of 1996 she and Trump met in a chance encounter when they recognized each other at the Bergdorf Goodman store.
She said they engaged in a lighthearted chat about trying on a see-through lilac gray bodysuit when they made their way to a dressing room, where she said Trump pushed her against a wall and raped her.
Trump said Carroll was “totally lying” to sell a memoir and that he had never met her, though a 1987 photo showed them and their then-spouses at a social event. He said the photo captured a moment when he was standing in a line.
Carroll, who wants unspecified damages and a retraction of Trump’s statements, also seeks a DNA sample from Trump to see whether it matches as-yet-unidentified male genetic material found on a dress that she says she was wearing during the alleged attack.
On Tuesday, Kaplan added: “We look forward to moving forward with E Jean Carroll’s defamation case against Donald Trump in his personal capacity in federal court.”
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