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Appeals court refuses to decide if Trump can be shielded from rape accuser's defamation suit

The Washington, D.C., federal appeals court said it didn’t have enough facts to decide whether Trump was acting as president when he accused writer E. Jean Carroll of lying about the alleged encounter.
NEW YORK - JUNE 21, 2019: E. Jean Carroll at her home in New York state.
Writer E. Jean Carroll alleges former President Donald Trump raped her nearly three decades ago, which Trump denies.Eva Deitch / The Washington Post via Getty Images file
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK — A Washington, D.C., appeals court on Thursday refused to decide whether Donald Trump can be shielded from the first of two defamation lawsuits by E. Jean Carroll, a writer who alleges the former U.S. president raped her nearly three decades ago.

The district’s highest local court, the Court of Appeals, said it did not have enough facts to decide whether Trump was acting as president when he accused the former Elle magazine columnist in June 2019 of lying about the alleged encounter.

It sent the case back to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which had last September asked whether under local law Trump made his comments in his role as president, or in his personal capacity as Carroll argued.

The Washington court said the 2nd Circuit or a federal district judge in Manhattan should assess Trump’s role.

Lawyers for Trump and Carroll were not immediately available for comment.

Thursday’s decision for now preserves both of Carroll’s civil lawsuits against Trump over their alleged encounter in late 1995 or early 1996 in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan.

After Carroll described the incident in a June 2019 New York magazine excerpt from her memoir, Trump told a reporter at the White House that he did not know Carroll, that “she’s not my type,” and that she concocted the rape claim to sell her book.

He largely repeated his denial in October 2022, when he called the rape claim a “hoax,” “lie,” “con job” and “complete scam” on his Truth Social media platform.

A trial over the second denial is scheduled for April 25 in Manhattan federal court.

That case also includes a battery claim under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which lets sexual abuse survivors sue their alleged attackers even if statutes of limitations have run out.

Carroll is expected to introduce testimony from two other women who have said Trump sexually assaulted them, and a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump making vulgar comments about women that threatened to upend his 2016 White House run.

Trump is seeking to postpone the trial, saying the recent “deluge of prejudicial media coverage” of a separate criminal case against him justified a four-week delay because most prospective jurors would have that case “top of mind.”

On April 4, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records, in an indictment filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, related to a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.