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Long-awaited ruling severs Trump rape claims ahead of civil trial

The former president faces one count each of battery and defamation at a trial featuring testimony from three women who have made similar sexual assault claims over the years.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Opting not to combine the two lawsuits, a federal judge opened the door Monday for Donald Trump to face two separate civil trials in which he is accused of raping a magazine writer in the mid-1990s.

E. Jean Carroll is the plaintiff in both lawsuits, filing the most recent one last year only minutes after New York opened a one-year look-back window to file time-barred claims. The former advice columnist at Elle magazine has been vocal for years that Trump raped her in a dressing room at the famed department store Bergdorf Goodman some time in the mid-1990s. 

When the 2022 suit proceeds to trial next month in the Southern District of New York, Carroll is expected to call as witnesses two other women who accuse Trump of sexual assault under similar circumstances, decades apart. 

Carroll filed the first of her lawsuits while Trump was still in office, seeking to hold Trump liable for defamation based on his denial of the allegation. In that matter, a Washington appeals court heard arguments on whether Trump was acting as president when he called Carroll a liar aiming to sell more books. If the court agrees with Trump, he can have the Justice Department stand in for him as a proxy defendant. This effectively ends the lawsuit, however, since the federal government has sovereign immunity against defamation claims. 

Despite the overlap between the two cases — namely whether the assault took place — U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan decided Monday that they should not be tried together. Doing so wouldn’t streamline things in a meaningful way, and consolidation could run counter to decisions in Washington or at the Second Circuit, the judge ruled. 

“The parties overestimate both the judicial economy benefits that would be achieved and the risk of inconsistent rulings that would be eliminated by consolidation,” Kaplan wrote in the single-page order. “Issue preclusion appears to the court adequate to achieve appropriate conservation of judicial resources and avoidance of inconsistent rulings even if the two cases were tried separately.” 

Kaplan’s ruling comes as Trump’s legal troubles in Manhattan appear to be mounting yet again. The former president's arrest is considered imminent this week for paying hush money to an adult film actress during his first run for president. 

Carroll detailed her assault allegations against Trump in a 2019 memoir “What Do We Need Men For?” Trump at the time denied the allegation, adding insult to injury by telling reporters “she’s not my type” and stating that, despite a photograph showing the two together, he and Carroll had never met.

In the department store encounter, according to Carroll, she said Trump recognized each other as public figures, and Trump sought Carroll's advice on lingerie he was buying as a gift. Trump allegedly asked Carroll to try on the garment, then entered the dressing room, shoved her against a wall and began kissing her, before forcing himself upon her. 

Lawyers have collected depositions with similar but unrelated allegations from Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff, who say the future president either kissed or tried to kiss them against their will in 1979 and 2005, respectively. 

Finding the three accounts to be “far more similar than different,” Kaplan allowed the women to testify at trial. He also allowed into evidence the notorious 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that circled widely during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, where Trump can be heard on a hot mic boasting about his proclivity to “just start kissing” women. 

“Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump told a laughing Billy Bush, then-host of the NBC entertainment program. 

“In this case, a jury reasonably could find, even from the Access Hollywood tape alone, that Mr. Trump admitted in the Access Hollywood tape that he in fact has had contact with women’s genitalia in the past without their consent, or that he has attempted to do so,” Kaplan wrote in his March 10 ruling

Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, declined to comment on Monday’s ruling. Trump attorney Joe Tacopina did not immediately return a request for comment.

Categories:Civil Rights, Criminal, National, Trials

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