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Federal Judge Denies Motion to Substitute DOJ for Trump in Rape Accuser's Defamation Suit

"President Trump defamed our client because she was brave enough to reveal that he had sexually assaulted her, and that brutal, personal attack cannot be attributed to the office of the president," a lawyer for E. Jean Carroll said. 

E. Jean Carroll speaks during the 2019 Glamour Women of the Year summit in New York City. (Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Glamour)

E. Jean Carroll speaks onstage during the How to Write Your Own Life panel at the 2019 Glamour Women of the Year summit at Alice Tully Hall on November 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Glamour)

A federal judge on Tuesday denied a Justice Department motion to take over President Donald Trump's legal defense in the defamation lawsuit of  E. Jean Carroll, who accused the president of raping her in the 1990s. 

"When Donald Trump called me a liar and denied that he had ever met me, he was not speaking on behalf of the United States. I am happy that Judge Kaplan recognized these basic truths."
—E. Jean Carroll 

In a highly unusual move, the DOJ had tried to intervene in the case of Carroll, a journalist who last June joined the over two dozen women who have now accused Trump of assault, molestation, or harassment. Had it been successful, the DOJ would have substituted itself as the defendant in the case, and since the federal government cannot be sued for defamation, the suit would have been effectively terminated. 

However, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan denied the government's motion, arguing in a 61-page ruling (pdf) that Trump "is not an 'employee of the Government,' as Congress defined that term," and that the DOJ's assertion that the defamation suit is against the United States is invalid. 

"The undisputed facts demonstrate that President Trump was not acting in furtherance of any duties owed to any arguable employer when he made the statements at issue," wrote Kaplan. "His comments concerned an alleged sexual assault that took place several decades before he took office, and the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States."

"To conclude otherwise would require the court to adopt a view that virtually everything the president does is within the public interest by virtue of his office," Kaplan asserted.

"No one even arguably directed or controlled President Trump when he commented on the plaintiff's accusation, which had nothing to do with the official business of government, that he raped her decades before he took office," Kaplan added. 

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Kaplan's opinion allows Carroll to proceed with her suit against the president. Roberta Kaplan, Carroll's attorney, welcomed the judge's ruling. 

"The simple truth is that President Trump defamed our client because she was brave enough to reveal that he had sexually assaulted her, and that brutal, personal attack cannot be attributed to the office of the president," the attorney for Carroll said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Carroll also celebrated the decision, saying in a statement that "when Donald Trump called me a liar and denied that he had ever met me, he was not speaking on behalf of the United States. I am happy that Judge Kaplan recognized these basic truths." 

Last June, Carroll claimed Trump raped her in a dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan in 1995 or 1996. Trump responded to the accusation by denying he had ever met Carroll, and saying that she wasn't his "type." 

"She is trying to sell a new book that should indicate her motivation," Trump said of his accuser. "It should be sold in the fiction section." 

Carroll then sued Trump last November, arguing that his denials amounted to libel because of the damage they caused her reputation. In August a New York state court ruled the suit could proceed, which led to the DOJ's attempt to substitute itself for Trump going forward. 

To date, at least 26 women have accused Trump—who infamously boasted of sexually assaulting women with impunity in a recording released a month before the 2016 election—of sexual assault or harrassment. 

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