The Justice Department on Tuesday reversed its position that former President Donald Trump was shielded from a 2019 defamation lawsuit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll.
The administration had originally argued that Trump was protected from liability under the Westfall Act because he was acting as a federal employee. Under the law, federal employees are entitled to absolute immunity from personal lawsuits for conduct that occurs within the scope of their employment.
Principal Deputy Attorney General Brian Boynton wrote in a letter on Tuesday to lawyers for Trump and Carroll that a jury’s finding in a separate civil lawsuit that Trump was responsible for Carroll’s sexual abuse and defamation influenced the decision. That lawsuit was filed in November 2022 and involved statements Trump made after his presidency.
“The allegations that prompted the statements related to a purely personal incident: an alleged sexual assault that occurred decades before Mr. Trump’s presidency,” Boynton wrote. “That sexual assault was obviously not work related.”
Carroll filed her first lawsuit in 2019, when Trump was still president, and after he accused her of “totally lying” when she said he sexually assaulted her in a high-end department store in New York City in the 1990s. In October 2021, a federal judge in New York ruled that Trump was not protected from Carroll’s lawsuit. In 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuitthe lower court’s decision and suggested that the Westfall Act could shield Trump from liability in the case.
The lawsuit has remained active and has not yet gone to trial. After the jury found Trump liable in April, Carroll amended the lawsuit, adding new defamation claims related to more recent statements made by Trump, and filing a counterclaim.
The Justice Department had initially argued that while “the former president made rude and offensive comments in response to the very serious allegations of sexual assault,” the law protecting employees like the president from such a lawsuit must be upheld.
But the Justice Department reviewed that decision after the jury in Carroll’s second New York lawsuit found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation, Boynton wrote. He concluded that Trump had not acted “out of a desire to serve the government” when he denied his claims.
Boynton also cited statements Trump has made about Carroll in the years since his presidency ended.
“These post-presidential statements, which were not filed with the Department during the original scope certification in this case, tend to undermine the contention that the former president made statements very similar to Carroll’s out of a desire to serve the government.” Boynton said. he wrote.
Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, expressed her gratitude for the department’s reversal, saying in a statement: “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.” from United States.”
He added that “we expect a trial in the original case of E Jean Carroll in January 2024.”
A lawyer for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.