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Judge rejects Trump bid to dismiss E. Jean Carroll defamation claims

The judge shot down Trump's presidential immunity argument, saying it's "not a 'get out of damages liability free' card."
E. Jean Carroll; Former President Donald Trump.
E. Jean Carroll and former President Donald Trump.AFP; Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday ruled against former President Donald Trump in his bid to dismiss writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation claims against him on the grounds of "presidential immunity."

In court filings, Trump's lawyers had contended he couldn't be held liable for calling Carroll an opportunistic liar in 2019 in part because he did so in furtherance of his presidential duties.

“Mr. Trump argues that he is entitled to absolute presidential immunity because he ‘made the three alleged defamatory statements in direct response to Plaintiff’s allegations which impugned his character and, in turn, threatened his ability to effectively govern the nation,’” U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York wrote in a 46-page ruling.

But, he wrote, Trump’s response was over the top, and presidential immunity is “not a ‘get out of damages liability free’ card.”

Carroll is suing Trump in federal court in New York alleging he defamed her after she went public with her allegation that Trump had raped her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s.

"Mr. Trump did not merely deny Ms. Carroll’s accusation of sexual assault," Kaplan wrote. "Instead, he accused Ms. Carroll of lying about him sexually assaulting her in order to increase sales of her book, gain publicity, and/or carry out a political agenda.

"Even assuming that the president’s decision publicly to deny an accusation of personal wrongdoing comes within the outer perimeter of his official duties, it does not follow that the president’s own personal attacks on his or her accuser equally fall within that boundary," he added.

"Mr. Trump does not identify any connection between the allegedly defamatory content of his statements — that Ms. Carroll fabricated her sexual assault accusation and did so for financial and personal gain — to any official responsibility of the president. Nor can the Court think of any possible connection," Kaplan wrote.

Kaplan also said Trump waited too long to raise the immunity defense, noting that his lawyers offered "no explanation" for the "three-year delay" in raising the immunity defense.

Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan, who's not related to the judge, praised Thursday's ruling.

"Judge Kaplan's denial of summary judgment confirms that once again, Donald Trump’s supposed defenses to E. Jean Carroll’s defamation claims don’t work," and it "removes one more impediment to the January 15 trial" in the case, Kaplan said in a statement.

Trump attorney Alina Habba said, "We disagree with the court's decision and will be taking the appropriate steps to preserve all viable defenses."

The defamation case was the first Carroll filed against Trump, but it will be the second to go to trial.

Last month, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll and then defaming her in comments he made after he left office. The jury awarded Carroll $5 million in damages, a verdict that Trump is appealing.

That case went to trial first because the pending case was tied up in appeals over issues relating to the presidency.

Carroll has since amended her original lawsuit to add new defamation claims stemming from Trump's comments following the $5 million verdict, including calling her claims a "hoax" and referring to her as a "wack job."

Trump filed a counterclaim against Carroll on Wednesday, in part for continuing to refer to the alleged incident as a "rape," because the jury last month found she had failed to prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" that Trump had raped her.

The jury instead found Trump liable for battery after it decided that Carroll had proven Trump sexually abused her.