A federal appeals court in New York on Tuesday handed former President Trump a partial victory in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s, with the court ruling that presidents are covered by a federal law that gives broad legal immunity to government employees.
A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit said a lower court erred when it ruled that Trump’s accuser, E. Jean Carroll, could sue Trump personally for the allegedly defamatory statements he made about her during his presidency.
The Tuesday ruling was not the final word in the case, however.
The 2nd Circuit panel asked the top local court in Washington to weigh in on another key issue bearing on Trump’s potential immunity: whether Trump was acting “outside the scope” of his presidency when he allegedly defamed Carroll by casting doubt on her credibility and demeaning her personal appearance.
Whether or not Carroll’s defamation suit can proceed against Trump now hinges on how the D.C. Court of Appeals interprets local D.C. employment law.
Trump has denied raping Carroll. In a June 2019 interview with The Hill, Trump said Carroll was “totally lying” when she accused him of raping her during an encounter in a New York department store in the mid-1990s.
Trump added: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?”
Carroll’s attorneys at the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP said they were confident that the D.C. court would find that Trump’s comments fell outside the scope of his official duties.
“Donald Trump was not acting within the scope of his duties as President when he defamed our client, E. Jean Carroll because he was not serving any purpose of the federal government and because the comment ‘she’s not my type’ is not something one would expect the President of the United States to say in the course of his duties,” Carroll’s attorneys said in a statement.
The Justice Department under both Attorneys General William Barr and Merrick Garland have argued in court filings that the former president’s comments about Carroll were made in the context of his official duties, and thus the U.S. government should be substituted for Trump as defendant in Carroll’s defamation case.
This story was updated at 11:31 a.m.