NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump may get immunity after all in a defamation case brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of rape.
A Federal appeals panel on Tuesday reversed a lower court ruling that found Trump was not acting in his presidential capacity in June 2019, when he called Carroll a liar after she alleged he forced himself on her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman.
In October 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan decided Carroll could sue Trump as a private citizen, not as president, which would make Trump solely responsible for any damages.
But the Justice Department appealed on the grounds that Trump was a government employee when he made the remarks and was entitled to immunity.
Tuesday’s ruling also kicks the case to the D.C. Court of Appeals to issue a final decision. If they rule in Carroll’s favor, the case will head to trial in February.
The 2-to-1 majority did not state whether they believe Trump raped Carroll or defamed her. But in his dissent, Justice Denny Chin made his feelings clear.
“(T)he comment ‘she’s not my type’ surely is not something one would expect the president of the United States to say in the course of his duties,” reads Chin’s dissent. “Carroll’s allegations plausibly paint a picture of a man pursuing a personal vendetta against an accuser, not the United States’ ‘chief constitutional officer.’”
Carroll brought the libel suit after accusing Trump of raping her in the Midtown department store in the mid-′90s. Trump insisted that she is lying and that she is “not my type,” when the allegations came out.
The Justice Department said last summer that it would continue to represent Trump in the case. Its lawyers have taken the position that it’s not the conduct it seeks to protect him from but a federal employee’s right to be shielded from lawsuits.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba said allowing the the Justice Department to represent him would let future presidents “effectively govern without hindrance.”
Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan said she was confident that the D.C. panel would take her side. She said it’s more important now than ever to hold presidents legally accountable.
“The world was a very different place when this case was briefed and argued back in December 2021. At that time, Judge Calabresi used the hypothetical of a president injuring an innocent bystander while playing golf,” she told the New York Daily News.
“Today, given what we now know happened on Jan. 6, courts have to be concerned about something that was previously unimaginable — namely, a president taking actions as part of a plan to overturn our democracy.”
Carroll plans to sue Trump on Nov. 24 for sexual assault under the Adult Survivors Act.
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