The Justice Department ’s effort to protect President Donald Trump from a defamation suit brought by a woman who claimed she was raped by him decades earlier was squashed Tuesday by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan denied DOJ lawyers’ claim that the president was protected as a “federal employee” or was acting “within the scope of his employment” when he denied the sexual assault and called the accuser a liar in a 2019 interview, the Washington Post reported.
Journalist E. Jean Carroll, who said she had been assaulted by Trump more than two decades ago in a New York City department store, brought the defamation suit against the president in November.
The maneuver was considered a first step in a bid to short circuit the case. If the judge had done what the Justice Department asked, government lawyers could then have invoked the notion of “sovereign immunity” — which prohibits lawsuits against the government — to end the case.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Carroll, said she was “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,” she said, adding that Carroll’s team looked forward to proceeding with the case in federal court.
Carroll said in a statement: “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.”