A federal judge has rejected a Justice Department effort to intervene in a defamation lawsuit brought against Donald Trump, concluding that the president’s actions at issue were outside of his official duties.
Writer E. Jean Carroll wrote in a book excerpt in 2019 that Trump raped her during an encounter at a New York department store in the 1990s. After the publication of her claims, Trump claimed to the media that she made up the story. She then sued for defamation.
But the DOJ took the unusual action last month of trying to intervene in the case, on the basis that Trump’s denial of the story was part of his official duties as president. That would have raised the prospect that the case would be dismissed because of immunity extended for libel and slander cases under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
In a ruling on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote that the president is not an employee of the government within the meaning of the FTCA, and that even if he were, his statements concerning Carroll were outside the scope of that employment.
Kaplan wrote that Trump’s 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 provides no support for this theory, and the court rejects it as too expansive.”
Kaplan’s ruling means that the case will proceed in New York state court.
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 twenty 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.”