(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump was dealt a blow in E. Jean Carroll’s remaining lawsuit against him after the US Justice Department reversed a crucial opinion that sought to protect the former president from the case, all but assuring the matter will go to trial in January.
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The new opinion by the Biden administration, outlined in a letter filed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, determined that Trump no longer qualifies for government-employee immunity and can be sued for remarks he made about Carroll while serving in an official capacity while he was president in 2019.
The move is a reversal of a previous department opinion that concluded Trump was protected by the Westfall Act, which bars civil suits against employees of the federal government over claims that relate to their official duties. The DOJ revisited the issue after an appeals court clarified that workers are only protected by the law if their actions were intended to help the US government.
Trump has argued that he was acting in the interests of the American people when he made the allegedly defamatory remarks, saying he needed to speak out against Carroll in order to maintain the trust of Americans.
Carroll sued Trump for defamation after he called her a liar from the White House and accused her of fabricating the alleged assault in order to sell a book she’d written. He also allegedly demeaned her by saying she was not his “type” and suggested her claim was politically motivated.
In May, a unanimous jury in New York found Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll during an alleged attack in a department store dressing room in 1996, awarding her $5 million in damages. Trump is appealing.
The DOJ’s reversal on the Westfall Act exemption removes a final barrier to a defamation trial set for January, one of at least four Trump faces in the next year as he campaigns for a return to the White House in 2024.
New York state’s $250 million fraud suit against Trump and his company is set for trial in October, while a criminal case by Special Counsel Jack Smith accusing Trump of withholding classified documents could go to a jury as soon as December. The Manhattan district attorney’s case accusing Trump of falsifying business records to conceal a hush-money payment is set for trial in March.
In its letter Tuesday, the Justice Department concluded there isn’t enough evidence to find that Trump was acting within the scope of his employment as president when he allegedly defamed Carroll.
“Here, 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 US said. “That sexual assault was obviously not job-related.”
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the filing.
“We are grateful that the Department of Justice has reconsidered its position,” Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan said. “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.”
Citing Trump Statements
The government cited recent statements Trump made about Carroll as reason to undermine his version of events, including remarks he made about her at a CNN town hall, calling her case a “hoax” and suggesting it was part of a “political conspiracy.”
“These post-Presidency statements, which were not before the Department during the original scope certification in this case, tend to undermine the claim that the former President made very similar statements at issue in Carroll I out of a desire to serve the government,” the department said.
Read More: Trump Accuser Urges Court to Reject Immunity in Defamation Case
(Updates with detail from the government’s filing)
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