The Justice Department said Tuesday it will no longer argue that Donald Trump was protected by his presidential office when he made derogatory remarks about writer E. Jean Carroll, a major shift in the government’s position that could imperil his defense in an ongoing defamation lawsuit.
A jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation after Carroll accused the former president of assaulting her in a department store nearly 30 years ago, awarding the writer $5 million in damages as part of the civil case. She has filed a separate defamation case seeking at least $10 million in further damages. A judge recently allowed her to amend that suit after Trump called her a “whack job” on CNN earlier this year.
The government, first under Trump and then under President Joe Biden, had argued for years that the former president had acted within his official presidential duties when he called Carroll a liar in 2019 and denied her accusation that he’d raped her. That argument centered on the Westfall Act, which shields federal employees from lawsuits stemming from conduct in their official duties.
But the Justice Department said new information from the recent civil case had changed that stance. “Although the statements themselves were made in a work context, the allegations that prompted the statements related to a purely personal incident: an alleged sexual assault that occurred decades prior to Mr. Trump’s presidency.”
“The prior history between Ms. Carroll and Mr. Trump supports a determination that the former President’s statements were not sufficiently motivated by a purpose to serve the Government,” the filing says. “…That history supports an inference that Mr. Trump was motivated by a “personal grievance” stemming from events that occurred many years prior to Mr. Trump’s presidency.”
Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said her client was grateful after the Justice Department reconsidered its position.
“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 of the United States,” the lawyer said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
Trump has repeatedly and vehemently defended himself against the accusations, and his attorneys filed a countersuit against Carroll last month. The lawyers allege the writer defamed Trump by claiming once more that he had raped her.
The defamation suit is scheduled to go to trial in January.