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Trump no longer immune from writer’s defamation lawsuit

A US judge has thrown out former president Donald Trump's defamation claim against E Jean Carroll.

A US judge has thrown out former president Donald Trump's defamation claim against E Jean Carroll. Photo: AAP

Donald Trump has suffered a legal defeat as the US government reversed its earlier position that the former president could be immune from the writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against him.

In a letter to Mr Trump’s and Carroll’s lawyers on Tuesday (local time), the US Department of Justice said it no longer believed Mr Trump acted within the scope of his office and employment as president in June 2019, when he denied having raped Carroll in a Manhattan department store dressing room in the mid-1990s.

The department late in Mr Trump’s presidency had reached an opposite conclusion, which the Biden administration adopted to the surprise of some observers.

Its change of heart means it will not try to substitute itself as the defendant, effectively ending Carroll’s $US10 million ($15 million) case because the government cannot be sued for defamation.

“Evidence of Mr Trump’s state of mind, some of which has come to light only after the department last made a certification decision, does not establish that he made the statements at issue with a ‘more than insignificant’ purpose to serve the United States government,” the department said.

Mr Trump’s lawyers and representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan said the change removed a possible impediment to the scheduled 2024 trial in Manhattan federal court.

“We have always believed that Donald Trump made his defamatory statements about our client in June 2019 out of personal animus, ill will and spite, and not as president,” Mr Kaplan said.

Carroll, 79, sued Mr Trump, 77, after he responded to her rape claim by saying he had not known the former Elle magazine columnist, that she was not his “type,” and that she lied to boost sales of her memoir.

She sued a second time after a similar October 2022 denial, leading on May 9 to a $US5 million ($7.5 million) jury verdict against Mr Trump for defaming and sexually abusing – but not raping – Carroll. Mr Trump is appealing that verdict.

Earlier on Tuesday, Carroll asked a judge in a filing to dismiss Mr Trump’s countersuit that she defamed him by repeating her claim that he raped her.

Her lawyers called the countersuit Mr Trump’s latest effort to “spin” his trial loss by claiming she caused “significant harm” to his reputation and an “inordinate amount of damages” by implying after the verdict that the assault was also a rape.

They also said Mr Trump sprung his counterclaim too late, to further delay “this otherwise trial-ready, much-delayed case”.

Mr Trump, who is again seeking the presidency, sued Carroll on June 27, objecting to a CNN interview following the verdict where she said “Oh yes he did, oh yes he did” when asked about the jury finding that he did not commit rape.

In their filing, Carroll’s lawyers said she did not say “Oh yes he did” with actual malice, which would mean she knew or had reckless disregard for whether the statement was false.

They also said the statement was “substantially true,” and therefore not defamatory, and simply reflected what was on Carroll’s mind as the verdict was read.

Topics: Donald Trump
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